Short-eared owls don’t give a hoot, becoming endangered

Short-eared owls don’t have short ears, but they have several characteristics that aren’t usually associated with owls.

One noticeable difference is that short-eared owls don’t hoot. Most of their calls are bark-like or whine-like noises that sound more like a coyote’s calls than those of a stereotypical owl. Another difference is that short-eared owls aren’t nocturnal. Most owls are associated with night-time, but short-eared owls are most active at dusk.

Their name, short-eared, comes from the small feather tufts on top of their head, but these aren’t ears. A short-eared owl’s ears are located within its facial disc.

Yet another difference is that, unlike many owls, short-eared owls often aren’t often found in trees. They usually perch in short shrubs or some type of thick-stemmed vegetation and they nest on the ground. Short-eared owls have a preference for open areas because they are birds of the prairie. Therein is the primary reason their numbers in Missouri are in decline.

Short-eared owls are one of a number of creatures that have become symbols for this region’s vanishing prairie habitat. These brownish-speckled birds that are more often heard than seen are secure in the northern parts of their North American range, but the same can’t be said in Missouri.

Here, they have a state endangerment ranking of S2, which is the second-most severe degree of imperilment (next to S1).

The definition of the S2 classification is imperilment because of low numbers of a species or because there is an existing factor (or factors) that makes that species vulnerable to complete disappearance (extirpation) from the state.

In Missouri, that factor is the shrinking amount of prairie habitat the short-eared owl calls home. Although they are also found in bogs or marshes in some parts of their range, in Missouri, they are residents of the prairie.

These effective hunters provide a beneficial service to humans by consuming large numbers of mice, rats, voles and other small animals that can be pests to farm operators and other landowners.

Read the full story here.


Source: Springfield News-Leader, Francis Skalicky