The Short-eared Owl (Otus or Strix brachyotus), Fig. 48, belongs to the family Strigidae and sub-family Otinae or Owlets, and is more or less migratory in habits, though occasionally remaining in this country throughout the year. It generally arrives in the British Islands in autumn, and leaves this country at the beginning of spring.

The Short eared Owl.

Fig. 48. - The Short-eared Owl.

The Short-eared Owl is about 14 in. in height, the female being rather larger than the male. The head, back and wings are lightish-brown with darker brown patches upon them. The wing feathers are edged with buff or fawn colour, and the under-parts of the body are fawn with blackish markings upon the breast. The legs are pale buff and the toes black. The beak is also black, and the ears, as the tufts of feathers on the head, are brown. Its haunts are heath and moorland, bracken-districts, furzy downs, hill pastures, marshes, and sometimes meadows, turnip-fields and other tracts of highly-cultivated land. It chiefly, however, is found in the north of England and in Scotland, where, and in marshes, it is safe from molestation, there also being abundance of food. This consists of field and grass voles, mice and young rats, beetles and other insects in larval and pupal as well as adult stages. It also feeds upon young game both ground and winged, though, being migratory and for the most part leaving this country before the advent of the game breeding season, the damage to game preserves is exceedingly small, there being very few short-eared owls outstaying the woodcocks, both arriving and departing about the same time, hence the term "woodcock owl." Indeed, the short-eared owl only exceptionally breeds in Britain, as in 1891 and 1892, when it nested freely, rearing two broods in a season.

The nest is made generally in tufts of heather or furze, or in grassy spots, if marshy, on little hillocks covered with rushes and reeds. It is scooped out of the earth and lined with a little dry grass or moss. From four to seven eggs are generally laid, creamy white in colour, but as many as thirteen eggs have been found in a nest. The pellets cast near the nests are found to consist of the fur and bones of voles. Though occasionally seen flying by daylight, the short-eared owl works most in the twilight of dusk and dawn, when voles also are most on prowl.