The Short-eared Owl is a medium-sized ground-nesting owl that inhabits marshlands and grasslands throughout North America. In California, Short-eared Owls nest in grasslands and marsh or seasonal wetland habitats throughout the state, including the Central Valley. They forage in agricultural fields, freshwater marshes, fallow fields, and tall grasslands, where they prey almost exclusively on small rodents (Holt and Leasure 1993, Roberson 2008).
Populations in California have declined due to loss of wetland habitats. The rice-growing regions of California are not part of the species’ core breeding area, although a few may occasionally breed there, especially during years with high populations of voles (Roberson 2008). During winter, Short-eared Owls may be found flying over disked, fallow, or flooded rice fields at dawn and dusk. They roost in patches of tall grass, sometimes mixed with shrubs that provide concealment from predators.
The Short-eared Owl is on the California Bird Species of Special Concern Priority 3 list, primarily because of habitat loss and degradation.