Short-eared owl flies like moth over wintry landscape
Bundled in layers on one of the coldest days of the season, my birding partner and I wait at dusk in the midst of a grassland at Rollins Savanna for the short-eared owls to emerge.
They look like foot-long moths as they hover over the grasslands at dusk, fixing their eyes on the icy ground, seeking their prey. We hope to be close enough, without disturbing them, to see the black wrist mark on their underwing as they glide over the fields. If we're really lucky, we'll hear their unusual bark-like call as they vie for the best feeding spot.
No owls were to be seen that night at the Grayslake forest preserve, although several were seen by a local birder the previous evening. It is the plight of nature watchers – not every plant or creature you hope to see comes out for your viewing pleasure.
We went home with a sense of defeat, especially since we know short-eared owls are rare in Illinois. This owl is on the state-endangered species list, and indeed, is considered a species requiring special watch by the National Audubon Society, throughout its range.
Each winter for the past five years, we try to find them at Rollins Savanna. We have not failed yet, and hope to find some later this winter.
The short-eared owl gets its name from two, barely visible tufts of feathers at the top of its head. Its ears, as with many owls, are actually slits on either side of the head.
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