Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus (Pontoppidan, 1763) SE SHEOW 7680
Family: Strigiformes > Strigidae

Short-eared Owl, Liz Cutting

The Short-eared Owl is associated with upland grassland and young forestry during the breeding season, and with a broader range of grassland habitats in winter.

The Short-eared Owl is a scarce breeding species in Britain & Ireland, and rather nomadic in its habits, breeding in one location one year and moving to a new location entirely the next. Some individuals may even make multiple breeding attempts in widely different locations during the same breeding season.

Short-eared Owls mainly feed on small mammals, with Field Vole of particular importance, and both their breeding distribution and success have been linked to prey availability.


Short-eared Owl identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Short-eared Owl.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Short-eared Owl, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



The breeding distribution of Short-eared Owl has almost halved since the 1968–72 Breeding Atlas (Balmer et al. 2013), and the species was added to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel list in 2010. The most recent population estimate was 620 to 2,200 pairs (APEP4). The species is a nomadic breeder and recent tracking work by the BTO has shown that one bird made breeding attempts in both Scotland and Norway in the same year; this suggests that individuals birds may have a flexible breeding strategy and breeding numbers in the UK may fluctuate in response to numbers of small mammals.


The Short-eared Owl’s core breeding range is the open rough country of northern England and Scotland, where they favour heather moorland, rough grassland, bogs and young forestry plantations. Elsewhere breeding records are widely scattered and involve a small number of pairs, in lowland coastal marshes and extensive grasslands. Abundance is greatest on Orkney, on the Uists and in the Pennines. An influx of Fennoscandian breeders boosts wintering numbers, which are widely distributed along the British east coast from Fife to Kent, in large river valleys in southern and eastern England, the lowlands of Lancashire and the downlands of Hampshire and Wiltshire. Irish records are usually along the east coast.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Since the 1968–72 Breeding Atlas, the breeding range has almost halved and the species is now Amber-listed in the UK and numbers are monitored by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Short-eared Owls are present throughout the year but more often recorded in autumn and winter months when significant arrivals from the continent may swell resident numbers.

Weekly occurence of Short-eared Owl from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Short-eared Owl ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Short-eared Owl, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Comhachag-chluasach
Welsh: Tylluan Glustiog
Catalan: mussol emigrant
Czech: kalous pustovka
Danish: Mosehornugle
Dutch: Velduil
Estonian: sooräts
Finnish: suopöllö
French: Hibou des marais
German: Sumpfohreule
Hungarian: réti fülesbagoly
Icelandic: Brandugla
Irish: Ulchabhán Réisc
Italian: Gufo di palude
Latvian: purva puce
Lithuanian: baline peleda
Norwegian: Jordugle
Polish: uszatka blotna
Portuguese: mocho-dos-banhados / coruja-do-nabal
Slovak: myšiarka mociarna
Slovenian: mocvirska uharica
Spanish: Búho campestre
Swedish: jorduggla


Interpretation and scientific publications about Short-eared Owl from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

It has been suggested that losses in Scotland may be linked to the maturation of plantations with owl densities peaking in forests aged three to seven years and forests only being used for the first 12 years whilst numbers of voles are high (Shaw 1995).


Peer-reviewed papers
Short-eared Owl in flight, by Liz Cutting / BTO

Remote tracking unveils intercontinental movements of nomadic Short-eared Owls Asio flammeus with implications for resource tracking by irruptive specialist predators

Astounding Short-eared Owl movements revealed

2024 | Calladine, J., Hallgrimsson, G.T., Morrison, N., Southall, C., Gunnarsson, H., Jubete, F., Sergio, F. & Mougeot, F.Ibis

International research led by BTO has revealed that Short-eared Owls make astonishing nomadic migrations between nest sites as far apart as Scotland and Arctic Russia. 

Peer-reviewed papers
Short-eared Owl. Liz Cutting

Sensitivities to land use change by breeding Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) in Britain

2021 | Border, J.A. & Calladine, J.Airo

Populations of Short-eared Owls are declining across many parts of their range, including here in Britain, where their breeding range contracted between 1990 and 2010.

Peer-reviewed papers
Short-eared Owl, by Liz Cutting / BTO

Use of dwarf shrubland–grassland mosaics by a nomadic predatory bird, the Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus

Identifying habitat needs for Short-eared Owls

2024 | Calladine, J., Southall, C., Wetherhill, A. & Morrison, N.Journal of Ornithology

A substantial proportion of Britain’s Short-eared Owl population breeds on managed moorland, where these avian predators specialise on small mammal prey.

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