Land Bird Conservation Plan Colorado  

Overview of Colorado
Physiographic Region 36

  • Grasslands
  • Lowland Riparian
  • Shore/Bank
  • Wetlands
  • Physiographic Region 62
    Physiographic Region 87
    Implementation Strategies
    Literature Cited

    Physiographic Region 36: Central Shortgrass Prairie

    Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

    Associated Species: Other species that may use habitat in a similar way and/or respond similarly to threats, management, and conservation activities include Northern Harrier, Barn Owl, and Western Meadowlark.

    Distribution: Short-eared Owls are sparsely and widely distributed in Colorado, with more birds present in winter than in summer. Breeding birds are most common on the plains, with additional populations in the San Luis Valley and North Park. Records indicate that they have never been common breeders in Colorado (Boyle 1998).

    Habitat Requirements: These owls breed and forage in grasslands, prairies, wetlands, and croplands. Large blocks of suitable habitat (100 ha; 250 ac) seem necessary to support breeding pairs. The birds nest on the ground, usually on a dry site, often elevated on a small hummock.

    Ecology: They lay eggs in April or May, and young leave the nest by June. Fall migrants arrive in September-October and leave in March. Short-eared Owls eat small mammals (especially voles, Microtus spp.) and occasionally small birds.

    Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Loss of suitable habitat is the most pressing issue, with losses coming from conversion of land to uses such as urbanization that are incompatible with the owls' nesting and foraging. Conservation efforts should focus on landscapes of prairie with suitable habitat for Short-eared Owls. Current breeding sites can be used as one layer of information in selecting these sites; however, any single effort appears likely to have a relatively small impact if current population and distribution records are accurate. Assure that large areas of habitat are available for the species. This approach may be most successful in North Park and the San Luis Valley.

    Habitat management schemes for nesting waterfowl and upland gamebirds generally benefit Short-eared Owls. Consider the needs of this species when managing for game species. Populations of the principal prey species (voles) should be maintained at levels compatible with economic activities on the land.

    Status and Reasons for Concern: This species is on the national Watch List, indicating a high conservation need throughout its range. The Short-eared Owl is not adequately monitored by the BBS within Physiographic Area 36, and the data are too sparse to allow meaningful analysis of trends. This species is monitored by MCB with nocturnal surveys.

    Biological Objective: Increase the species' distribution and abundance, as measured by results of MCB and other monitoring programs.

    Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992, Clark 1975, Holt and Leasure 1993, Kingery 1998.

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