Yeah, Sitting on the Couch Is Great, But Have You Ever Seen a Short-Eared Owl?

Yeah, Sitting on the Couch Is Great, But Have You Ever Seen a Short-Eared Owl?

Spring isn’t far too considerably off, but we’ve even now received a thick slab of wintertime to get by means of. It can be a hard several weeks: Maybe you fail to remember what sunshine appears to be like like. Possibly a you-shaped hollow begins to variety in your sofa. (Perhaps I’m projecting.)

Perhaps what you want is to go come across an owl. 

Brief-eared, specially. Hauntingly gorgeous, with extended, swish wings and keen yellow eyes set in a distinctive facial disk, Brief-ears are not shy about demonstrating off their good appears. They are active in daylight and gravitate to open parts, wherever they hunt voles, lemmings, and other rodents, and are significantly a lot easier to location than much more secretive owls that hunker in deep woods. 

This blend of class and accessibility makes Small-ears a wintertime preferred for a lot of birders and photographers. In the extensive, cold months in between migration seasons, observing these birds hunt is a single of individuals area of interest pleasures—like discovering a flock of winter season finches or scoping out some strange ducks—that can buoy your spirit and remind you of winter’s silent attract.

Among the planet’s most greatly distributed owls, Short-ears have produced very good use of their impressive wings. “They have quite a array close to the planet, which includes on the Galápagos and in Hawaii, and evidently created it there on their have,” suggests chook pro and Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufman.

They’re yr-round residents in significantly of the northern United States and massive swaths of South The us, as nicely as on islands in the Caribbean and all around the globe. They breed throughout a large territory, nesting on the ground in tundra, grasslands, and other open spaces of Alaska, Canada, and northern Eurasia. And in winter season, Limited-ears can be uncovered across just about all of the Lessen 48, however Kaufman says their presence in a provided region can vary from calendar year to 12 months, and even within a single period.

Their huge vary makes Small-eared Owls a findable species for just about any one keen to go search. But exactly where to start? The Audubon Bird Information app enables you to effortlessly discover nearby hotspots: Lookup for the species, then click the “sightings” tab to check out new records of birds noticed close to you. The eBird platform is a different tried-and-accurate alternative. Listservs or Facebook web pages operate by area birding teams can also supply updates about wherever owl-seekers are discovering accomplishment. 

A far more Luddite-welcoming suggestion from gurus: If you’ve experienced any encounters with Northern Harriers, try those people places for owls. These extensive-tailed hawks prowl the identical habitats as do Short-ears, usually competing for prey. Harriers hunt primarily during the working day and Brief-ears are most normally noticed about dawn and dusk, but matters can get rough-and-tumble come shift adjust. “They form of share house, while not often pretty willingly,” suggests wildlife photographer and Audubon contributing editor Melissa Groo. “Sometimes you get these fascinating clashes involving them.”

Area scouting apart, there is constantly a probability you are going to luck into a Limited-ear when driving by farm region or other suited habitat. If a big hen catches your eye, it shouldn’t be also tricky to explain to if it’s the species you’re right after: “They have a genuinely distinctive floppy flight that’s tricky to describe,” Kaufman claims. “They’re incredibly buoyant-wanting in flight.” Groo says a Shorter-ear on the wing appears to be mothlike: “It’s really uneven and unpredictable in ways, but it’s always quite swish and agile.”

Groo is drawn to the birds not only for their beauty, but also due to the fact she loves the more and more uncommon habitats they count on. Grassland birds are some of our speediest-declining species, and Brief-ears are among the those getting fewer and fewer places to make a home. Their population position is tricky to gauge, in accordance to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in element due to the fact of their nomadic and crepuscular behavior. But whilst the species is even now prevalent and regarded as of the very least conservation problem globally, it has missing an estimated 65 percent of its North American population given that 1970, according to the Associates in Flight network. Seven states in the northeast take into consideration the Small-eared Owl threatened or endangered. 

Fortuitously, the species is not as probable as numerous other owls to be disturbed by birders and photographers, in accordance to Kaufman. Social media tends to result in a flood of readers when another person reviews discovering, for case in point, a Wonderful Gray Owl—a species whose lower populace density, exceptional camouflage, and generally nocturnal behaviors make any sighting a newsworthy occasion in local birding circles. In current winters, crowds drawn by reports of Great Grays or other elusive species, these types of as roosting Very long-eared or Northern Noticed-whet Owls, have led some birders to accuse other folks of harassing the sensitive birds. But Quick-ears are additional conspicuous, so there’s fewer pent-up desire to see them in the wild, and they really do not appear overly stressed by a couple of birders and photographers observing them though they hunt, Kaufman says. Nonetheless, there are limits. In 2019, condition conservation officers had to be known as in to deal with trespassing and other irresponsible conduct by owl fans in western New York, which include pursuing the birds with a drone.

Portrait of an owl sitting on a log in a field looking at the camera.
Brief-eared Owl. Image: Sylvia Hunt/Audubon Pictures Awards

“We can like these birds to demise very effortlessly,” Groo claims. To ensure your admiration of Limited-ears does not result in them damage, hold to roadways and trails and continue to be off of the fields exactly where owls hunt and nest. Push gradually and extra diligently in owl habitat to stay clear of clipping a chicken which is centered on hunting. Stay away from loud converse and other intrusive noises. And if you can, consider going to Brief-ear haunts in the course of the 7 days, when there are commonly much less site visitors. “It’s about regard,” she suggests.

To get a great shot devoid of disturbing an owl’s hunt can take a good deal of glass—Groo suggests a 400mm lens at bare minimum, and 500mm or 600mm is even improved. For a fowl in flight, you are going to want to shoot at least 15 or 20 frames for each second, preferably employing a camera with superior automobile-target functionality. Just one of Groo’s favourite methods to shoot Limited-ears is from her vehicle. Sling a bean bag over your window to stabilize your camera and you can get excellent pictures from inside a vehicle, which has the additional gains of preserving you mostly concealed and fairly heat. 

Soon after chatting with Groo and Kaufman about the attractiveness of Limited-eared Owls, I was itching to get outside the house and locate 1 for myself. So, the other day I went to appear for them at a community nature protect. Its floodplain forest opens on to numerous acres of prairie the place I believed I may well hunt if I ended up a Short-ear. I waited until finally just right before dark—no owls.

I did, however, see Hairy Woodpeckers hammering away in the bare trees, and a Belted Kingfisher swooping very low more than a wide river around a chatty raft of Mallards. I observed three deer munching absent as a heavy snow started to fall, and when they winded me and bolted, a different dozen I hadn’t observed materialized and bounded absent and light yet again into the forest. By the time dusk arrived, seeing a Brief-eared Owl just about appeared like too much to check with for. Possibly I’ll check out all over again tonight.