You may not have even heard of the short-eared owl (Asio flammeus), because it is not common in Iowa.
Although it is widely distributed throughout North America and is one of the world’s most distributed owls, it is endangered in the state of Iowa.
Their “ears” are hard to see.
One would think with “ears” in its name, that it would have conspicuous “ears.” However, the short-eared owls’ ears are not ears, they are tufts, like the long-eared owl. Plus, the short-eared owls’ tufts are so short that they are often even difficult to see.
Instead, it can be identified by its streaky feathers, dark eye patches and white face. While flying, it can be distinguished by its barred wing tips.
Short-eared owls are more common in winter.
These breed in Alaska, throughout Canada and parts of the northern U.S. and live year-round in northern states and only fly south during the winter months. In Iowa, you could see this bird year-round.
They are diurnal.
Bucking the typical owl trend, short-eared owls are diurnal, which means they are active during the day.
They hunt by flying over short vegetation in grasslands and open areas, looking for small prey such as mice and voles. They will also take down bats, and small birds. Before eating, they will decapitate their prey and eviscerate it before swallowing it whole. If it is a bird, they take the wings off before eating it.
They’re ground nesters.
Short-eared owls build their own nests, instead of commandeering another nest like some other owls do. Short-eared owls nest on the ground amidst vegetation for camouflage, scraping a bowl out of the ground and lining it with grasses and feathers.
Short-eared owls are in decline.
Short-eared owls are state endangered in Iowa, and they were listed as a common bird in steep decline on the 2014 State of the Birds Report. However, they were not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds Report.
They hunt on large grassland areas and appear to be vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation, which would explain their state in Iowa. Habitat loss from agriculture, livestock grazing, recreation and development appears to be the major sources of population decline, according to Cornell University.
They might be called the long-eared owl (Asio otus), but you actually can’t see their ears. Instead, this state-threatened owl has feathered tufts on top of its head that look like it has long, pointy ears. They have a loud call. Like the great-horned owl, the long-eared owl has a hoot, like we expect from…Read More
The burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is certainly an independent creatures amidst Iowa’s other eight owl species. It looks like an owl, but it acts a bit different than others that we have addressed in our Owls of Iowa series. Here are some interesting facts about the burrowing owl: It does indeed burrow. We expect owls…Read More
Snowy owls are not constant winter guests in Iowa. Their behavior is known as irruptive, which means they might appear in some winters and not in others. That means that when a snowy owl is spotted, it’s a big deal. Let’s check out some reasons why snowy owls are such a neat bird. 1. Large…Read More
Even without the tufts of the great horned owl, barred owls (Strix varia) still have that classic owl shape and are easily diagnosed as owls from far away. Their haunting black eyes make them a beautiful addition to the owls of Iowa series. Who cooks for you? The barred owl has one of the most…Read More
We’ve talked about the large great horned owl, tiny northern saw-whet owl and adorable eastern screech owl, so this week we moved on to the state endangered barn owl. Barn owls are not federally endangered but their populations are low in Iowa. That could be because of habitat loss and prey loss because of…Read More
They are called the eastern screech owl (Megascops asio), but that doesn’t mean all you’ll hear from them is screeches. Typically, these small owls only screech when they are defending their nest or fledglings. Otherwise, you will hear a variety of calls, including trills, whinnies, hoots and barks. They even make a clacking sound by…Read More
Great-horned owls may be the most well-known and most common owl in Iowa, but I don’t think there’s any disputing that the northern saw-whet owl is the cutest. Only slightly heavier than a hairy woodpecker and about the size of a robin, the saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) is tiny and adorable. Saw-what owls hide easily.…Read More
There are nine species of owls in Iowa, and the great-horned owl (Bubo virgianus) may be the most well-known species. Great-horned owls have the quintessential owl call. When you think owl, you think “Whoooo. Whoooo.” That is actually not the call of every owl but the call of the great-horned owl. You can’t see their…Read More