The Short Eared Owl
 Morris's British Birds 1891
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Short Eared Owl
Image Title: Short Eared Owl
Description: Short Eared Owl (Otus Brachyotos)

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Strix brachyotos, MONTAGU. BEWICK. Strix ulula, LATHAM. Otus brachyotus, SELBY. GOULD.
Strix—A kind of Owl. Brachyotos—brachus—Short. Ous, (plural ota)—An ear.

The remark made at the commencement of the next article, applies in a modified degree to the bird whose natural history is at present under consideration. I hope we shall never ourselves be so overwise as to undervalue the tales of our childhood; and, if so, the question 'what ears you have!' and the philosophical answer 'the better to hear with,' will never be effaced from our recollection.
The Short-eared Owl is found in Germany, Holland, and most parts of Europe; as also in North and South America, from Greenland, Newfoundland, and the Fur Countries, to Cuba, La Plata, Buenos Ayres, the Straits of Magellan, the Falkland Islands, Terra del Fuego, and the Galapagos. So too in Asia, in China, namely, the Ladrone Islands, Assam, Burmah, Japan, Singapore, Bochara, Palestine, Mesopotamia, etc Likewise in Africa, as in Algeria, Morocco, Natal and Abyssinia. They are said to breed in Tangiers with a different species, the progeny being a mixture of the two, even to the colour of the eyes.
It occurs in Yorkshire by no means uncommonly, as near Nafferton and Burlington, but in other parts less so, as about Barnsley and Halifax. I saw one at Nunburnholme, October 23rd. 1875. In Lincolnshire they frequent the marsh at North Cotes, near Tetney. Eather common in Devonshire.
Unlike the next species, this one avoids the shelter of woods, and makes itself conspicuous in the open country, seeming to prefer moist situations, fens, heaths, moors, and other such places; in the eastern side of the island it is the most numerous, as having crossed over from the continent.
It is a migratory bird, arriving among us in October, and departing in March; and as five or six are sometimes found roosting together, it is deemed probable that they migrate in flocks, more or less large, On one occasion, in Ireland, thirteen or fourteen were seen in company, as many, or more, are not unfrequently thus seen soon after their first arrival. They breed in Northumberland, and probably other northern counties; and even southwards, on to Cambridgeshire; in the Orkneys, in Dumfriesshire, East Lothian, and other parts of Scotland: several of their nests have been found in Norfolk, and one, it is believed, in Suffolk. They used to breed regularly in the Fens, before the drainage, and Professor Newton mentions that some eggs were taken at Littleport, in the Isle of Ely, in 1864, and that he himself saw young birds unable to fly, in Elveden, in the last named county, in August, 1854. They have also bred in Yorkshire, Shropshire, and other shires, no doubt far more widely formerly than now: the greater part however leave again in the early spring.
They prowl by day, especially in dull weather, and may sometimes be seen hawking over turnip fields, as well as in more wild districts, which they naturally prefer. When disturbed, they fly but a little way, and then alight again on the ground: for the most part they lie close. If captured they defend themselves with much spirit, as does the Long-eared Owl, but are in some degree tameable, so much so as to take food from the hand. One kept by Montagu never drank during six months. They have been observed to retreat into rabbit-holes, at the entrance of which they had been stationed, after the manner of the Burrowing Owl of America.
On occasion this species exhibits considerable powers of flight, and if teased by the pursuit of a Eook or other bird, easily surmounts it, and sometimes ascends to a great height, where it wheels about in circles. It flies much after the manner of a Sea-gull, and seems but very seldom to perch on trees.
Young or weakly grouse, pigeons, plovers, larks, yellow-hammers, and other small birds, chickens, which it sometimes snaps up even in the day-time from the barn-door, rats, mice, reptiles, beetles, and other insects compose the prey of the Short-eared Owl. The legs of a Purre were found in the stomach of one, and in another the remains of a bat. 'Generally speaking,' says Bishop Stanley, 'a more useful race of birds does not exist, since with the exception of one or two of the larger and rarer species, their food consists entirely of vermin and insects, very prejudicial to our crops, and which, but for these nocturnal hunters, might do serious mischief. A striking instance of their utility occurred some years ago in the neighbourhood of Bridge-water, in Somersetshire, where during the summer such incredible numbers of mice overran the country as to destroy a large portion of vegetation; and their ravages might have extended to an alarming degree, had it not been for a sudden assemblage of Owls, which resorted from all parts to prey upon them. The like is recorded of a 'sore plague of strange mice', in Kent and Essex, in the year 1580, or 1581, and again, in the same counties in 1648. In 1754 the same thing is said to have occurred at Hilgay, near Downham Market, in Norfolk. , Short-eared Owls, to the number of twenty-eight, have been counted in a single field, collected together, no doubt, by swarms of mice which in a favourable season had been bred there.' The "fur and feather" swallowed, is cast up by this and the other owls, in small pellets.
The note is said by Meyer to be soft and pleasing, and to resemble the words 'kiou, kiou.' If alarmed for their young, they utter a shrill cry, as they fly and hover about, and make, as also at other times, a snapping noise with their bills. The motion is so quick in doing this, that it is with difficulty the opening and shutting of the bill can be observed.
The nest, which is built on the ground among long grass, heather, rushes, or fern, is composed of moss, hay, or grass, or even formed by a mere hollow in the earth. The young have been found seated on the ground near the nest before they were able to fly.
The eggs, which are white, are from three to five in number.
The whole plumage of these birds is very soft. Male, weight, about eleven ounces; length, one foot two to one foot three inches; bill, bluish or brownish black, and partly concealed by the plumage; cere, the same, the feathers about it also white with black shafts. Iris, yellow, with a tinge of red, surrounded by a ring of brownish black passing into white, and broadest behind; the feathers of the wreath which encircles the face are striped with light ferruginous and black, the latter predominating near the ears, those in front turned forwards and hiding the cere: the white is surrounded by a whitish line. The head, which is small, is dusky, the feathers edged with light ferruginous. The crown is furnished with two tufts or 'soi-disant' ears, but which in this species are not very conspicuous, and are chiefly set up when the bird is asleep or in a quiescent state. Bewick says that if frightened, the tufts are depressed, but the fact is that their then disappearance is rather caused by all the feathers of the head being raised so as nearly to hide the former. These tufts, which are placed near together, are composed of three or four feathers not much longer than the other feathers of the head, the longest being less than an inch in length; they are dusky on the outer webs and yellowish white on the inner. Neck, nape, chin, and throat, pale buff, with oblong dark brown streaks; breast, pale buff, sometimes darker, streaked with dark brown, wider above and narrower lower down on the shafts of the feathers, which are edged with yellowish. Back, dusky, the feathers edged with light ferruginous. The wings, long and broad, expand to the width of about three feet, or a little more; underneath, they are yellowish white, the dark bars on the inner webs shewing through—they reach about an inch beyond the tail. Greater and lesser wing coverts, mottled with dark dusky and ferruginous, some of them spotted with yellowish white. Primaries, very broad, yellowish salmon-colour, barred with dark brown, greyish and speckled towards the tips, white at the base of the outer webs: the second is the longest, the third nearly as long, the fourth a little shorter than the first; some of the quills are strongly serrated on the outer edge. The two or three first have one or two dusky bars, the next two or three, and the rest two, three, or four, on the outer webs; and all have one irregular bar, or part of one, on the inner—the bars are only on the outer half of the quills. Secondaries also broad, dusky buff, spotted with dull white, forming irregular bars; tertiaries, dusky buff; larger and lesser under wing coverts, as the wings; underneath, the feathers are edged with brown, with a few brown spots.
Tail, rather short, buff, with four or five broad bands of dark dusky brown on the six middle feathers; the two centre ones spotted with dusky on the interstices; the bars on the outer feathers are fewer and imperfect, and the yellow on the outside feathers is shaded off to whitish; those have only two irregular brown bars on the inner webs; the tips yellowish white. Tail coverts, yellowish brown faintly edged with a darker shade; under tail coverts, white. Legs, feathered pale buff, short and thick; the third and fourth toes are united at the base by a short web; the first is the shortest, and has an extensive lateral motion, the third is the longest, the second and fourth nearly equal. Toes, the same, the feathers pale buff in colour, assuming a hairy appearance, but they are bare beneath. Claws, much hooked, blackish grey, the middle one grooved beneath, with a sharp inner edge.
Female; length, about one foot four inches; the breast is rather deeper tinted than in the male, and the streaks broader. The back, is rather lighter than in the male. The wings expand to the width of three feet one or two inches.Pale varieties have occurred occasionally.

" O, when the moon shines, and dogs do howl. Then, then, is the joy of the Horned Owl."

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