The Short Eared Owl grows up to 42 cm in length. It has fairly long wings but a short tail. Adults have a brown back and creamy buff chest with brown streaks. Sexes are similar in appearance, but females like most owls, are slightly larger and tend to be darker. Juveniles resemble adults, but their plumage is lighter in color. With its varied brown coloration, which acts as excellent camouflage, the Short-eared Owl is conspicuous only when it flies, which is mostly from dusk to dawn, it hunts for an hour or so at dusk, then again at dawn. It can easily be identified by its irregular flight, which resembles that of a foraging moth. It is characterized by deep wing beats, occasional hovering, or skimming over wetlands and meadows. The short-eared owl’s flight is frequently described as moth-like, from the way it flies when hunting, moving back and forth with unhurried, but deep wing beats as it searches for prey.
These birds primarily hunt small mammals, but they will eat small birds, birds eggs and the young will eat all sorts of insects.
Short-Eared owls prefer open meadows and wetlands to breed in. Breeding begins in March and runs through June. When short-eared owls court, they will put on elaborate displays of flight and wing clapping, this is incredible to observe.
The nests are cup-shaped, on the ground, and filled with vegetation and small down feathers. The female will lay up to 9 eggs. Incubation, which is done by the female alone, lasts about 30 days. The eggs hatch all at once and the young fledge about 4 weeks after hatching. The parents will continue feeding them for some time after they fledge.
Short-Eared Owls are widely distributed throughout North America but are mainly an arctic breeder, they will show up in the southern parts of the Pacific Northwest when food is scarce in their normal breeding areas.