Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Short-eared Owl
Asio flammeus

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Strigidae
  • Genus: Asio
  • Species: Asio flammeus
  • Authority: Pontoppidan

OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

"Uncommon winter resident in north and central. Rare winter resident in south. Rare summer resident." *01*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

Comments on status:
Protected under the Illinois Endangered Species Act, 1972 *02*, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 *17*, and the Illinois Wildlife Code, 1971 *18*.

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types: No records.

Associated tree species: No records.

National wetland inventory classifications:

SystemSubsystemClassSubclassWater regime modifiersWater chemistry
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation   Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified
Upland Emergent vegetation Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified    

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Short-eared found in open habitats: old fields, agricultural areas, prairies, meadows, marshes *02,09,12*. May nest in dunes *02*.

Important plant and animal association: Generally, Microtus spp. (voles) are the most important and common prey spp. *04,12,13*. In IL,Peromyscus spp. (mice) may at times be the most common prey *02,15*.

High value habitats:

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Other agricultural land Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Nonforested wetland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Prairie Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Wetland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Marsh Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Agricultural field Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Forageland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Abandoned cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Abandoned forageland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Prairie restoration Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All
Cropland and pasture Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All

Species-habitat interrelations: Prairies, grasslands, marshes, pastures, old fields, grassy fields are all of high value. Function: breeding, foraging, roosting in all seasons *02,04,09,11,12,13*. Prefers wet prairie in illinois *02*.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Other agricultural land Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Nonforested wetland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Prairie Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Wetland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Marsh Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Agricultural field Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Forageland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Abandoned cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Abandoned forageland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Prairie restoration Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)
Cropland and pasture Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface- Birds
Terrestrial surface- Small mammals (<1 kg)

Comments on feed-guilding:
No comments.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Other agricultural land Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Nonforested wetland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Prairie Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Wetland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Marsh Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Agricultural field Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Forageland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Abandoned cropland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Abandoned forageland Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Prairie restoration Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface
Cropland and pasture Not applicable
(HVAL-HAB cover)
All Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface

Comments on breed-guilding:
Ground-nesters usually near clump of vegetation in marsh or meadow *11*.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is CARNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Insecta Larva
Insecta Adult
Soricidae (shrews) Adult
Chiroptera (bats) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Adult
Rallidae (rails, coots) Adult
Sturnidae (starlings) Adult
Emberizinae (sparrows, longspurs) Adult
Cardinalinae (cardinals) Adult
Icterinae (blackbirds, orioles, meadowloarks) Adult
Important:
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Juvenile:
Insecta Larva
Insecta Adult
Soricidae (shrews) Adult
Chiroptera (bats) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Adult
Rallidae (rails, coots) Adult
Sturnidae (starlings) Adult
Emberizinae (sparrows, longspurs) Adult
Cardinalinae (cardinals) Adult
Icterinae (blackbirds, orioles, meadowloarks) Adult
Adult:
Insecta Larva
Insecta Adult
Soricidae (shrews) Adult
Chiroptera (bats) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Adult
Rallidae (rails, coots) Adult
Sturnidae (starlings) Adult
Emberizinae (sparrows, longspurs) Adult
Cardinalinae (cardinals) Adult
Icterinae (blackbirds, orioles, meadowloarks) Adult

Comments on food habits: 
General: See "important plant and animal association." Most of short-eared's diet is small mammals *04,09,12,15*.
Juvenile: Owlets will eat insects if small mammals are scarce *09*.
Adult: See "comments: general and important food habits."


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Aquatic habitats: ditches
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Grasses: unknown
  • Ground cover- grass (%): unknown
  • Agricultural crops: unknown
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland
  • Unknown

Limiting:

  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Ground cover- grass (%): unknown

Egg

  • Unknown

Feeding juvenile:

  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Grasses: unknown
  • Ground cover- grass (%): unknown
  • Agricultural crops: unknown

Resting juvenile:

  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Grasses: unknown
  • Ground cover- grass (%): unknown
  • Agricultural crops: unknown

Feeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: ditches
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Grasses: unknown
  • Ground cover- grass (%): unknown
  • Agricultural crops: unknown

Resting adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Grasses: unknown
  • Ground cover- grass (%): unknown
  • Agricultural crops: unknown

Breeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Grasses: unknown
  • Ground cover- grass (%): unknown
  • Agricultural crops: unknown

Comments on environmental associations:
General: Short-eared owl is a grasslands species. Associated with: prairies, grassy filds, grain stubble & marshes. Ground nester, raising young in same habitat *02,04,08,09,11,12*.
Feeding juvenile: Juveniles assumed to adopt hunting habits of adults *00*.
Resting juvenile: Juvenile rests in nest and assumed to roost on ground as adults *00*.
Feeding adult: Hunt over open country, grasslands, fields.
Resting adult: Roost on ground in open fields, drainage ditches *04,12,12*. May roost in pines during winter *02*.
Breeding adult: Nest is invariably placed on ground near clump of vegetation in marshy areas, prairie, grassland, or grain stubble *08,09*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *01,02*.

Physical description: 13-17 in. long, 38-44 in. wingspread *04*. Male: 315 g.; Female: 380 g. *07*. Adults may be brown or gray *08,09*, streaked, buffy patches on upper wing, black "wrist" patches on underside of wing *04,05,06*. Seldom calls *06*.

Reproduction: Courtship and pair formation begins in Feb.-March. Elaborate and spectacular courtship flights *04,09*. Territorial through breeding season - peak is in early nesting period, diminishes later *09*. In Manitoba *09* breeding territories: 23.1-97.9 ha., 73.9 ha. ave. Other data suggests about 15-20 ha. *11*. Short-eared is the only ground-nesting Strigidae (typical owls) *09*. Nest is typically a shallow scrape, sparsely lined with grass, weeds or feathers *04, 08,09*. In N.A., Most (55% of 63 studied) nests are in grasslands (e.g., prairie); also commonly found in grain stubble (24%) and hayfields (14%) *09*. Eggs are white, elliptical *08,09*. Clutch of 4-10, usually 4-7 is laid (Mar.-mid June in midwest) *04,08,09*. Evidence suggests larger clutches are laid in response to large prey populations *04,09,11*. A second clutch may be laid in good years *11*. Eggs laid at 24 hr. intervals *11*. Incubation begins with first egg *09*. Female alone incubate, 21-23 days *04,09*, but may be forced from nest to hunt in prey shortages *04*. Parents may move eggs or new hatchlings if nest is endangered (e.g., Flooding) *10*. Hatchlings blind at birth, 16-18 g. Eyes open first pellet cast at 8-9 days *09*. Older (biggest) hatchlings may eat youngest *11*. Young leave nest at about 14 days, *09,11*, fly at about 30 days *04, 09*, remain near nest, dependent on parents to some extent about 42 days *04,10*. Born with whitish down, develop full plumage by early fall *08. Parents will defend young and perform "wounded bird" flights *04,08*. Male hunts, bringing food to nesting female *09*.

Behavior: Short-eared hunting territory is inversely realted to prey mammal densities *09*. In one area *09*, hunting (winter) territories were 11-22 a., 16 a. ave. hunts from before dusk through night, may hunt in late afternoon when preferred foods are scarce *04,08,09*. Hunts much like a harrier: in circles, low to the ground over grasslands, fields. May hover, may also hunt from a perch. Pounce on prey with talons, and usually fly to different location to eat prey *04,08,09*. Prey eaten head first *09*. Short-eared owls roost on ground *04,13*, in open fields and grassy drainage ditches in IL *12*. Gregarious near or in hunting areas *09*; will congregate to hunt where mice and vole populations are high *04*, and will move roost if prey populations are depleted *09*. An irregular migrant *04,09,13*: particularly northern populations (this likely includes IL populations *02,08,09*) *11*. May stop en route or nest in wintering range if dense prey populations are found *09,13*. Dispersal of young achieved through migration *09*. Short-eared is a nomadic species and will quickly colonize new areas or increase numbers in occupied areas if habitat and prey availability allow it *09*. Many aggressive encounters between harriers and short-eareds are recorded. This competition arises from the similarity of their ecological requirements *09,13*.

Limiting factors: Mortality from human cause includes: shooting, pole-trapping, collision with vehicles, striking barbed-wire fences and injury from farm machinery (last 2 a reflection of their low altitude hunting techniques and ground-nesting). Predation by great horned owl, snowy owl, peregrines, harriers and roof rats (presumably rats prey on nestlings) is cited *09*. Goshwak is a predator in central europe *14*.

Population parameters: Hatchability (hatching success) 82%, fledging success 46%, about 4 fledgings/pr./yr. *09*. One owl lived 10 yr., Another 12 yr. *04*. In IL, populations have probably declined in response to loss of habitat *02*. However, number of sightings of this species are erratic and thus may or may not reflect variation in a given population *16*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Maintaining undisturbed/undeveloped areas
  • Maintaining natural ecological succession
  • Maintaining natural areas and nature preserves
  • Maintaining unique or special habitat features (wetlands, snags, caves, cliffs, talises, etc.
  • Preserving endangered species habitat
  • Preserving sensitive species habitat
  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Controlling land use and human activities
  • Controlling pollution
  • Practices other than those included on the ifwis list (see comments)
  • Developing/maintaining wetlands
  • Creating/maintaining wetlands from non-wetlands
  • Protecting existing wetlands
  • Restoration of wetlands (return flooded or drained areas to previous wetland conditions)
  • Developing/maintaining riparian habitat
  • Grazing management to allow vegetative recovery
  • Periodically burning prairie areas
  • Develop/maintain prairie
  • Restricting human disturbance during migration, breeding, and nesting

Adverse:

  • Recreational development
  • Draining wetlands
  • Haying/mowing
  • Applying pesticide on agricultural land
  • Uncontrolled grazing by domestic livestock
  • Strip mining
  • Applying pesticides
  • Application of pesticides
  • Application of insecticides

Existing:

  • Prohibiting hunting

Comments on management practices:
See commands on species environmental associations and limiting factors. Rodenticides may be harmful if accumulated in short-eared; reduction of prey populations may in itself reduce habitat suitability *02,14*. Current management Includes Migratory Bird Treaty Act *17*, status as State Endangered Species *02*, and Illinois Wildlife Code, 1971 *18*.

 


REFERENCES

0. BUTCHER, M. K. 1984. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV., 607 E. PEABODY DR., CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (217)333-6846.

1. BOHLEN, H. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK-LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SER., VOL. IX. 156 P.

2. BOWLES, M. L., V. E. DIERSING, J. E. EBINGER AND H.C. SCHULTZ, EDS. 1981. ENDANGERED AND THREATENED VERTEBRATE ANIMALS AND VASCULAR PLANTS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS DEPT. CONSERV. 189 P.

3. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. 1982. THIRTY-FOURTH SUPPLEMENT TO THE AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. SUPPLEMENT AUK, VOL. 99(3).

4. TERRES, J. 1980. AUDUBON SOCIETY: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 P.

5. PETERSON, R. 1980. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. 4 ED. HOUGHTON-MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 384 P.

6. ROBBINS, C., B. BRUUN AND H. ZIM. 1966. BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA. GOLDEN PRESS, NEW YORK. 340 P.

7. TO BE INSERTED LATER.

8. BENT, A.C. 1938. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS OF PREY (PART 2). U.S. NATL. MUS. BULL. NO. 170.

9. CLARK, R. J. 1975. A FIELD STUDY OF THE SHORT-EARED OWL, ASIO FLAMMEUS (PONTOPPIDAN), IN NORTH AMERICA. WILDL. MONOGR. NO. 47. 10. URNER, C.A. 1923. NOTES ON THE SHORT-EARED OWL. AUK 40:30-36.

11. BURTON, J. A., ED. 1973. OWLS OF THE WORLD. E. P. DUTTON AND CO., INC., NEW YORK. 216 P.

12. GRABER, R. R. 1962. FOOD AND OXYGEN CONSUMPTION IN THREE SPECIES OF OWLS (STRIGIDAE) CONDOR 64:473-487.

13. CRAIGHEAD, J. J. AND F. C. CRAIGHEAD. 1956. HAWKS, OWLS AND WILDLIFE. STACKPOLE CO., HARRISBURG, PA. 443 P.

14. NEWTON, I. 1979. POPULATION ECOLOGY OF RAPTORS. BUTEO BOOKS, VERMILLION, SD. 399 P.

15. CAHN, A. R. AND J. T. KEMP. 1930.

16. SPRUNT, A. AND E. CHAMBERLAIN. 1970. SOUTH CAROLINA BIRD LIFE. UNIV. SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS, COLUMBIA. 655 P.

17. U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERV. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. TITLE 50. WILDLIFE & FISHERIES. CHAPTER 1. PP. 11-18. 50 CFR 10.13. LIST OF MIGRATORY BIRDS. SPEC. PUBL. FEDERAL REGISTER. GEN. SERV. ADMIN. OCT 1.

18. ILL. DEPT. CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH. 61. WILDLIFE. ART. II. PAR. 2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 120 PP.

 


 

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