Manataka American Indian Council









Missouri is Full of Surprises Too...


Short-Eared Owls By The Hundreds

Faren Fite of Greenfield, Mo. reported 200 owls were found between Greenfield and Lockwood.  There was one photo of 28 owls sitting on a small corral fence, as if they were attending a family reunion or owl convention. It was a huge group of short-eared owls, a species a little bit like the barred owl in the Ozarks.  But in habit, they are much different than most of the owls in the Ozarks. They have a mean look to them, with ornery-looking bright yellow eyes rather than the brown eyes the barred owl has. And the face is much different, with a pronounced circle of feathers, contrasting white and dark brown, and two little feather patches referred to as "ears", which are much like the horns on a horned owl. Except the ears on a short-eared owl can usually not be seen, they just barely stick up above the forehead most of the time.  They are a species not so much fond of forests; they stick to a more open country like that prairie land along the Missouri Kansas border, with scrub timber and thickets. And they nest on the ground! Now that is something, when you think about how most all owls nest in hollow trees. The barn owl often nests in old buildings of course, and there is an odd little burrowing owl which nests in holes in the ground.  It is interesting to note that an owl can't build a nest because his beak isn't made for carrying and assembling nest materials. A burrowing owl doesn't dig his burrow, and barn owls don't build a nest at all, they just lay eggs on a barn loft or ledge.

Great horned owls and barred owls find a natural hole in a tree and nest there, or sometime use an old hawk nest. But short-eared owls actually nest in the grass on the ground, which they trample down and flatten down, and they actually try to arrange a few sticks in a situation which really doesn't resemble a nest. Knowing that other owls do not carry sticks, that's something I'd like to see. 


On this little flattened grass "nest" they will lay anywhere from 3 or 4 to 7 or 8 eggs, depending on the whim of the female owl I suppose. They lay their eggs in May or early June, and the eggs aren't much more than an inch wide, about an inch and half long. That is a very small egg for a bird that eventually will mature at a size of 14 to 16 inches in length and weigh about a pound.

Ornithologists examined the stomach contents of 110 short-eared owls many years back, and found that three-quarters of their diet had been mice of one kind or another, about 10 percent small birds and nearly as many moles and shrews. About 7 percent of the diet appeared to be insects, with the stomach of one owl containing about 30 big grasshoppers. Another odd thing about the short-eared owl is that he is a daytime type of owl, actively hunting during the day more than at night, when most other owls are active.


Mr. Fites pictures are fascinating, and leave you to wonder why so many owls would be concentrated in such a small area together. Who can explain that? Certainly not me, and up to this week I though I knew everything! Obviously it is some kind of a migration, perhaps not very far, but likely from a place where food supplies of small ground mammals had been decimated for some reason or another. It is likely a mass movement of a species looking for food. I don't see, anywhere in books I have, any naturalists talking about a migration of owls.


Obviously, as I have said so often, no one can know all there is to know about nature. Those of us who spend a great deal of time outdoors see unexplainable things. A modern day outdoorsman or naturalist who tries to learn by the book can know little of the secrets of nature. You have to be there sometimes to see things which perhaps no one has seen before. I am much interested in hearing if any of my readers has ever seen anything like this before.  

Source: Larry Dablemont -

Submitted by: Deborah Massey





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