A skilled hunter, the short-eared owl is most active during the morning, late afternoon and night, when it can be seen flying low above the ground searching for prey (2) (4). The structure of the wings and feathers give this species impressive aerial agility, and make its flight almost entirely silent. This is a very useful adaptation, as this species mainly hunts by sound, and also means that prey are not alerted to its presence. The short-eared owl feeds upon small mammals up to the size of hares, but will also take birds. Feeding is a rather gruesome affair, and involves the owl decapitating its prey, before pulling out the entrails, or, in the case of birds, pulling off the wings and swallowing them whole (2).
In order to attract a mate, the male short-eared owl carries out a dramatic aerial display, involving rising quickly, hovering and descending with exaggerated wing beats, along with singing and wing-clapping (2) (4). Breeding pairs generally remain together for a single breeding season, although it is possible that breeding with multiple partners may also occur. Egg-laying takes place between March and June in the northern hemisphere, while in the southern hemisphere it commences in September. The female constructs a nest comprising a scraped out bowl in the ground lined with grasses and downy feathers. A clutch of between 5 and 10 eggs is laid and incubated by the female for 26 to 29 days, while the male brings food and defends the nest. At 12 to 18 days after hatching the young leave the nest, but are unable to fly and so hide in vegetation. This behaviour serves to minimise time spent in the nest, where predation is most likely to occur. The short-eared owl reaches sexual maturity at 1 year or less and may live for around 13 years (2).
Although in the southern parts of its range the short-eared owl generally remains in the same location throughout the year, northern populations are highly migratory and make long-distance journeys to find food. Interestingly, if this species finds a wintering area with an abundant food supply it may remain there permanently (2).