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

Timothy Hill

Spring is not way too considerably off, but we have still bought a thick slab of winter season to get by. It can be a hard couple of weeks: Maybe you overlook what sunshine appears to be like. Perhaps a you-formed hollow starts to sort in your sofa. (Possibly I’m projecting.)

Probably what you want is to go find an owl. 

Shorter-eared, particularly. Hauntingly beautiful, with lengthy, sleek wings and keen yellow eyes established in a unique facial disk, Limited-ears are not shy about exhibiting off their fantastic appears to be like. They are lively in daylight and gravitate to open up spots, in which they hunt voles, lemmings, and other rodents, and are much less complicated to spot than much more secretive owls that hunker in deep woods. 

This combination of elegance and accessibility can make Brief-ears a winter season favorite for quite a few birders and photographers. In the prolonged, chilly months involving migration seasons, watching these birds hunt is one of individuals niche pleasures—like getting a flock of winter finches or scoping out some weird ducks—that can buoy your spirit and remind you of winter’s peaceful allure.

Among the planet’s most broadly dispersed owls, Limited-ears have built fantastic use of their effective wings. “They have rather a assortment close to the planet, which include on the Galápagos and in Hawaii, and evidently made it there on their personal,” says chicken pro and Audubon industry editor Kenn Kaufman.

They are year-spherical citizens in much of the northern United States and massive swaths of South The us, as nicely as on islands in the Caribbean and all over the earth. They breed across a large territory, nesting on the floor in tundra, grasslands, and other open areas of Alaska, Canada, and northern Eurasia. And in wintertime, Limited-ears can be found across just about all of the Lower 48, although Kaufman suggests their existence in a presented area can fluctuate from 12 months to 12 months, and even within a solitary time.

Their huge range will make Short-eared Owls a findable species for just about anybody ready to go glance. But in which to commence? The Audubon Bird Guideline app will allow you to effortlessly obtain nearby hotspots: Look for for the species, then click on the “sightings” tab to look at the latest documents of birds noticed in the vicinity of you. The eBird system is a further experimented with-and-correct solution. Listservs or Fb webpages run by area birding groups can also present updates about in which owl-seekers are locating achievement. 

A much more Luddite-friendly tip from authorities: If you’ve experienced any encounters with Northern Harriers, try those people spots for owls. These long-tailed hawks prowl the same habitats as do Shorter-ears, frequently competing for prey. Harriers hunt principally in the course of the working day and Short-ears are most often noticed close to dawn and dusk, but factors can get rough-and-tumble arrive shift change. “They form of share house, although not generally really willingly,” states wildlife photographer and Audubon contributing editor Melissa Groo. “Sometimes you get these intriguing clashes between them.”

Area scouting apart, there is often a prospect you are going to luck into a Brief-ear although driving by way of farm state or other suited habitat. If a significant chicken catches your eye, it should not be much too tough to notify if it is the species you are soon after: “They have a really unique floppy flight that is tough to describe,” Kaufman states. “They’re very buoyant-seeking in flight.” Groo claims a Small-ear on the wing looks mothlike: “It’s very uneven and unpredictable in means, but it is generally very swish and agile.”

Groo is drawn to the birds not only for their beauty, but also for the reason that she loves the progressively uncommon habitats they count on. Grassland birds are some of our swiftest-declining species, and Small-ears are amid those locating less and much less spots to make a household. Their populace standing is tough to gauge, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in element because of their nomadic and crepuscular behaviors. But although the species is still prevalent and deemed of the very least conservation concern globally, it has lost an estimated 65 % of its North American populace given that 1970, in accordance to the Partners in Flight network. Seven states in the northeast contemplate the Limited-eared Owl threatened or endangered. 

Fortunately, the species is not as possible as quite a few other owls to be disturbed by birders and photographers, in accordance to Kaufman. Social media tends to trigger a flood of site visitors when anyone reviews locating, for instance, a Good Grey Owl—a species whose very low populace density, great camouflage, and mainly nocturnal patterns make any sighting a newsworthy occasion in community birding circles. In new winters, crowds drawn by reports of Great Grays or other elusive species, these as roosting Prolonged-eared or Northern Saw-whet Owls, have led some birders to accuse other individuals of harassing the sensitive birds. But Limited-ears are extra conspicuous, so there’s considerably less pent-up desire to see them in the wild, and they do not seem extremely stressed by a handful of birders and photographers observing them while they hunt, Kaufman claims. Nevertheless, there are limitations. In 2019, condition conservation officers had to be known as in to address 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. Picture: Sylvia Hunt/Audubon Images Awards

“We can really like these birds to death really very easily,” Groo says. To assure your admiration of Quick-ears does not lead to them damage, maintain to roads and trails and remain off of the fields in which owls hunt and nest. Drive bit by bit and more meticulously in owl habitat to keep away from clipping a chook which is targeted on searching. Stay away from loud converse and other intrusive noises. And if you can, take into account going to Quick-ear haunts for the duration of the week, when there are usually fewer guests. “It’s about respect,” she says.

To get a excellent shot with no disturbing an owl’s hunt usually takes a lot of glass—Groo endorses a 400mm lens at minimal, and 500mm or 600mm is even improved. For a chook in flight, you are going to want to shoot at minimum 15 or 20 frames for every second, ideally utilizing a camera with fantastic auto-aim functionality. A single of Groo’s favourite methods to shoot Small-ears is from her car or truck. Sling a bean bag about your window to stabilize your digicam and you can get good shots from inside of a car or truck, which has the added benefits of holding you mostly concealed and fairly heat. 

Right after speaking with Groo and Kaufman about the splendor of Brief-eared Owls, I was itching to get outdoors and come across a single for myself. So, the other working day I went to seem for them at a area mother nature preserve. Its floodplain forest opens onto quite a few acres of prairie in which I considered I might hunt if I had been a Limited-ear. I waited till just ahead of dark—no owls.

I did, having said that, see Bushy Woodpeckers hammering away in the bare trees, and a Belted Kingfisher swooping minimal in excess of a broad river close to a chatty raft of Mallards. I noticed a few deer munching absent as a heavy snow started to drop, and when they winded me and bolted, an additional dozen I hadn’t recognized materialized and bounded absent and faded all over again into the forest. By the time dusk arrived, looking at a Brief-eared Owl practically seemed like much too much to question for. Possibly I’ll test again tonight.

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