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Short-eared Owls are light tan with wide brown streaks on their upper-parts and thinner well-defined vertical streaks on their breast and belly. There are black spots on the undersides of their wings near the wrists. They have small “ear tufts” and black bands that frame their yellow eyes. Short-eared Owls are about the size of a crow. Females are slightly larger and darker than males and have heavier streaking.

One of the best ways to identify a Short-eared Owl is to watch its distinct moth-like flight when hunting (deep wing-beats, occasional hovering, and cutting low over patches of grassland or marsh). They typically search for food at dawn and dusk. 

Weight: Females, 284 to 475 g (10.0 to 16.8 oz) Males, 206 to 363 g (7.3 to 12.8 oz)
Length: 34 to 42 cm (13.3 to 16.4 in)

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Short-eared Owls likely arrive in the NWT in April or May. They are the only owls that build their own nests. They lay an average of seven eggs by mid-June and the owlets hatch in early July. Short-eared Owls probably leave the NWT by late October. It is uncertain where owls from the NWT spend the winter. 

In summer, Short-eared Owls nest on the ground in grasslands, tundra, bogs, marshes and other open (non-forested) areas. Their habitat includes areas with abundant small mammals to eat (the owls move around as small mammal populations fluctuate).

Short-eared Owl numbers vary in space and time in response to cycles in their main prey, small mammals. Short-eared Owls have suffered significant population declines in Canada since the 1960s, including an estimated 30% decline from 2004 to 2016.

Habitat loss and degradation from human activities, mainly in their southern range, are potential threats to Short-eared Owls.

Climate change is predicted to alter their tundra habitat, reducing prey availability and increasing predation risk.

COSEWIC assessed the status of Short-eared Owl in Canada as Special Concern in 1994 and again in 2008, and then re-assessed it as Threatened in 2021. Short-eared Owl was listed as a species of Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2012. A national management plan for Short-eared Owl is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry.

Dehcho Gwich'in Inuvialuit North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ Sahtú South Slave