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Short-eared Owls, the open-country hunters

We got a break in the rain in the Seattle area on Friday. There were blue skies with few clouds which gave way to some wonderful rays from the sun. This gave us an opportunity to enjoy the local wildlife. We had been waiting on a good day to go view the Short-eared Owls of Leque Island. League Island Unit also known as Eide road, is located west of Stanwood between Port Susan and the Skagit bays. This is one of our favorite places to see these Owls. Short-eared Owls are easier to view and photograph than a lot of other owls because they are active during the day. They can be especially active at dawn and dusk.We arrived around eleven in the morning and stayed until just before the sun was setting, which is around five in the afternoon in the Pacific Northwest during fall/winter.

The owls gave excellent opportunities to view them as they were hunting the fields. Their hunting technique is to fly low over open areas chasing prey.  Their flight has been described as a buoyant, floppy wingbeat, that makes them look like a giant moths. The owls started off moderately active and pick up later in the afternoon. While watching the owls fly around and hunt we also got a chance to witness a lot of vocalizations and wing clapping. This was the first time for me seeing the wing clapping. Wing clapping is part of the Short-eared owl’s dramatic in flight courtship display.

Short-eared owls are open country hunters and are widely distributed throughout the world. It is a medium sized owl, with a mottled brown plumage with barred tail and wings. They have large eyes and big heads with whitish disks of plumage surrounding the eyes almost mask like. As their name implies their ear tufts are short. So short that they may or may not be visible. They have acute hearing which they use to hunt small mammals and birds. We did not see the owls with any prey in their talons, however we did see the owl take to the ground several times and land on snags and tree branches. To see more photos of the Short-eared owls taken on this day please check out the gallery Short-eared Owls,the open-country hunter.





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