British Garden Birds Site Map Album Info Quiz Shop Links About Visit us on facebook

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl
Both sexes: Buff with dark blotches.

The Short-eared Owl is about the same size as a Tawny Owl and slightly larger than the Long-eared Owl but has longer, thinner wings than the other two species.

The Short-eared Owl's plumage is buff with dark brown blotches and its short ear tufts are not often visible. The tail is boldly marked with four bars. Their eyes are yellow surrounded with black patches that give it a glaring stare. The hooked bill is horn coloured. The legs and feet are feathered.

In flight, the undersides of the wings show black wing tips, white trailing edges and a distinctive dark carpal patch (about half way along the leading edge of the wing) that is more prominent than in the Long-eared Owl.

Unlike the Long-eared Owl, the Short-eared Owl can often be seen hunting low over moor land and marshes during the daytime or sitting on the ground in a much less upright posture than other owls.

In Flight
In Flight

Scientific Name Asio flammeus
Length 34-42 cm (14-17")
Wing Span 90-105 cm (36-42")
Weight 260-350 g (9¼-12½ oz)
Breeding Pairs c.1000
Present All Year
Status Amber

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


The male's song, which is often given in flight, is a soft, deep "boo-boo-boo-boo".

Their alarm call is an almost Jackdaw-like, "chef-chef-chef".

Male Song

© Jean Roché,
Alarm Call

© Jean Roché,


Their diet comprises small mammals, such as voles, shrews, mice, rats, hedgehogs, birds up to thrush size and amphibians.


They nest on the ground of moor land and marshland areas but also in young forest plantations. The nest is a shallow hollow, usually in the shelter of heather, grass or reeds.

The eggs are laid on alternate days and are incubated by the female only. The eggs are smooth, white and about 40 mm x 32 mm.

The male brings food to the female who feeds the young, which leave the nest after about two weeks but do not fly for about another two weeks.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
Late April 1 4-8 24-28 22-27


The Short-eared Owl is migratory with many British birds migrating as far as Spain and central Africa for the winter, whilst many owls from continental Europe winter in Britain.


The Short-eared Owl population fluctuates depending on the prevalence of prey, especially voles, but in recent times the number of breeding pairs has fallen. This decline has placed it on the Amber-list and may be caused by fewer new conifer plantations being planted.