Family Typical Owls (Strigidae)

Least Concern

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)


French: Hibou des marais German: Sumpfohreule Spanish: Búho campestre

Strix Flammea


, 1763,



Morphologically similar to A. otus, but studies of proteins indicate unusually large genetic distance between them#R. Sometimes thought to be closely related to A. capensis, which replaces it ecologically in Africa, but resemblance seems superficial and probably due to convergence, and vocalizations very different. Much darker race galapagoensis possibly specifically distinct, and treated as such by recent author#R on grounds of genetic and behavioural distinctiveness (and with apparent vocal differences, although these are not mentioned in the taxonomic evaluation); galapagoensis notably smaller than adjacent Ecuadorian populations (score perhaps 2) and generally darker, but one specimen from Pichincha (NHMUK 1916.8.24.31) is as dark (so no score) and otherwise no obvious distinctions apparent, while behavioural differences involve hunting techniques and suggest simply ecological plasticity. Race domingensis was formerly considered a separate species, including portoricensis (and later also cubensis) as a race; alternatively, first two have been considered a single race of present species. Race pallidicaudus sometimes included in bogotensis. Eleven subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. f. flammeus (Pontoppidan, 1763) – Common Short-eared Owl – breeds Iceland, British Is, and locally through Europe and Asia E to Kamchatka and Commander Is, S to Spain, Caucasus, NE Mongolia and NE China; also North America from W & N Alaska through Canada and S to C USA; in winter most N breeders move to S Europe, N & W Africa, Middle East, Pakistan, India, SE Asia to Japan, and S USA to C Mexico.
  • A. f. ponapensis Mayr, 1933 – Pohnpei, in E Caroline Is.
  • A. f. sandwichensis (Bloxam, 1827) – Hawaiian Is.
  • A. f. cubensis Garrido, 2007 – Cuba.
  • A. f. domingensis (Statius Müller, 1776) – Hispaniola.
  • A. f. portoricensis Ridgway, 1882 – Puerto Rico.
  • A. f. pallidicaudus Friedmann, 1949 – N & NC Venezuela and Guyana, and possibly Suriname and French Guiana.
  • A. f. bogotensis Chapman, 1915 – Colombia, Ecuador and W & C Peru.
  • A. f. suinda (Vieillot, 1817) – S Peru, WC Bolivia, Paraguay and SE Brazil S to Tierra del Fuego.
  • A. f. sanfordi Bangs, 1919 – Falkland Is.
  • A. f. galapagoensis (Gould, 1837) – Galapagos Short-eared Owl – Galapagos Is.
  • Descriptive notes

    34–42 cm; 206–396 g; female 260–475 g; wingspan 95–110 cm. Medium-sized owl with distinctive moth-like flight, wing beats bouncing, high and flapping... read more


    Generally silent, but during courtship male gives series of 13–16 notes in flight, “hoo... read more


    Open country: tundra, marsh, grassland, savanna, moorland; also montane forest. In North America,... read more

    Food and feeding

    Small mammals, less frequently birds. Mammals commonly include voles (Microtus), shrews (Sorex), moles (Scapanus... read more


    Lays Mar–Jun in N hemisphere; breeding begins Sept in S hemisphere. Seasonal monogamy, though polygamy suspected. Nest on ground: in... read more


    Thought to be highly migratory in N part of range, though migration perhaps confused with nomadic... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. In Europe, strongholds are in Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belarus and Russia, with much smaller but locally... read more

    Recommended citation

    Olsen, P.D., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 31 March 2020).