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Short-eared Owl, Jess Findlay
Photo © Jess Findlay

Photo: Jess Findlay
Breeding evidence - Short-eared Owl
Breeding evidence

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Short-eared Owl
Asio flammeus

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
0 - 2138 m
Conserv. status:
COSEWIC: Special Concern
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
4 6 40 2
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Canada1970 - 2012 -5.17 (-9.24 - -1.05)Low

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range The crepuscular hunting times of the Short-eared Owl and its habit of foraging over open pastures make it one of the most often-seen owls in British Columbia. Its buoyant flight and big head are distinctive, so it is relatively easily recognized from a distance from the harriers and other hawks that might be hunting on the morning and evening shift. It is one of the most widely distributed owls in the world, found throughout much of North America, Eurasia, and a number of oceanic islands. In North America it breeds in most suitable open habitats from the low Arctic south to the northern United States as well as many Caribbean islands.

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Short-eared Owl breeds locally in suitable habitat throughout British Columbia, although it is absent as a breeder from much of the coast outside the Lower Mainland. The distribution shown by Atlas data is very similar to that reported in The Birds of British Columbia in 1990. Atlas data are too few to generate a Probability of Observation model and calculate abundance model.

Short-eared Owls are birds of open country, foraging and nesting in old pastures, hayfields, grasslands, bogs and marsh edges (Campbell et al. 1990, Wiggins et al. 2006). Nests are placed directly on the ground in clumps of high grass or occasionally in shrubby thickets. In British Columbia, breeding usually occurs at elevations below 1,000 m (Campbell et al. 1990).

Conservation and Recommendations Data from the Breeding Bird Survey and the Christmas Bird Count indicate that the Short-eared Owl has suffered a large decrease in population in Canada since 1970; the most likely cause for this decline is the loss and degradation of their breeding and foraging habitats (Environment Canada 2011, Wiggins et al. 2006). The Fraser River delta is the main wintering area for the species in British Columbia; Christmas Bird Count results showed an approximate three-fold decrease in numbers there between 1972 and 1987 (Campbell et al. 1990).

Richard J. Cannings

Recommended citation: Cannings, R.J. 2015. Short-eared Owl in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jul 2024]

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