Short-eared Owl

Short-eared owls nest and roost on the ground. They depend on large, open areas like the Washington County Grasslands for an abundant supply of the mice and voles that are their usual prey.

This habitat also supports their low flying hunting style – “…frequently described as “moth or bat-like” because it flies low over grasslands or marshes, moving back and forth with unhurried, irregular wingbeats.” [NYS DEC]

Short-eared owls were once one of New York's most common owls. Now there are less than 100 left in the state. They historically nested in the Washington County Grasslands, but habitat loss, pesticides and intensive agricultural use have taken a heavy toll on these unusual owls. They now migrate to breeding grounds in Northern Canada during the summer and return in late fall to spend the winter.  

Ornithologists and NYS DEC Biologists expect that conserving and restoring habitat in this area will allow the owls to start nesting here again. Conserving and permanently protecting their habitat is the first and most important step to recovering owl populations across the state. It will also benefit almost a dozen other threatened and at risk grassland bird species, including Northern Harriers, Upland Sandpipers, American Kestrels, Eastern Meadowlarks and Grasshopper Sparrows. 

NOTE:  Short-eared owls historically bred in 8 northeast U.S. states. They now breed in only 4, where they are listed as endangered or threatened; Ontario, Canada, lists them as a "Species of Concern."
New York Status: Endangered; Federal Status: Not Listed

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Photo courtesy Dr. Gordon Ellmers