In Part 1 of “Birds of the Prairie”, I highlighted the Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), a wonderful bird of our midwestern prairies and marshes. Today’s Part 2 focuses on an equally impressive bird, the Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus), a new “life bird” for me.
The Short-Eared Owl is no longer a year-round resident of the Missouri prairie, although it used to be. Continued loss of prairie land caused the bird to move it’s range northward. But even so, we are happy to welcome these cute little owls back every winter for a wonderful birding experience!
The Short-Eared Owls are a medium-sized owl (about 15″) and are typically seen at dusk, when they begin their foraging over the prairie for food. Their staple is voles, but they have been known to feed on songbirds and even some gamebirds. During the daylight hours, they reside among the tall prairie grasses for cover. But once dusk approaches, they begin their hunt, flying about the prairie and often making their little “barking” sounds, sounding much like a disoriented chihuahua flying about over the prairie!
Here are a few images I made during my 2 trips to some southwest Missouri prairies this past winter:
Typically, the Northern Harriers will stop hunting as dusk settles in, the same time the Short-Eared Owls begin their hunting activities. On one evening, I was quite surprised to watch this Northern Harrier chasing a Short-Eared Owl across the prairie as the sun was beginning to set:
Photographing these interesting little owls was quite a fun “job”. But when one of the shorties would fly against the setting sun, or in the rich, colorful light of sunset, it was even more rewarding:
Never heard the “bark” of an owl? Here is a short audio clip of the Short-Eared Owl “barking”. Imagine hearing 10-20 of these owls flying above your head over the open prairie, all at one time!
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Can’t wait for next winter’s adventures with the fabulous Short-Eared Owls!