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As we build awareness of the incredible tall-grass prairie in southeast Manitoba, the story is being shared through various channels.

Species at Risk Spotlight: Short-eared Owl

Dawson Trail Dispatch, written by Norm Gregoire, April 2023

Page 14 https://issuu.com/dispatch222/docs/dawson_trail_dispatch_april_2023

As we slowly head into spring the warmer weather brings a change to the tall-grass prairie. With patches of snow disappearing, they reveal what has been lying dormant for many months. Rivers and creeks begin to flow and, in the water, and along the bank’s life returns. In these first signs of spring there is no more life found anywhere else other than in the sky. Migrating birds are welcomed back as they begin to breed and nest, or just pass through on their way farther north. This includes many at-risk species such as the short-eared owl.

Short-eared owl are medium sized owls, comparable in size to the American crow. It has streaked brown, black, and beige upper parts and a more lightly streaked breast. The eyes are yellow with a black eye-patch on a light coloured, disc shaped face. Ears are seldom visible. Another identifying feature is a slow, moth-like flight pattern, observed at dawn and dusk, that is typical of a short-eared owl as they search for prey.

The prey consists mostly of small mammals such as mice and voles. The owl is so reliant on these rodents that their own populations trend in similar direction as their prey. This phenomenon is sometimes known as a “boom or bust”. In times where prey is plenty, short-eared owls may lay upwards of eleven eggs, in their self built, ground nest. When prey population is low nests may be abandoned or yield as small a clutch size as a single egg.

In Canada, nesting is done mostly in the open areas of the prairies or tundra. Nests are scraped out by females who do most of the incubating. The males are still heavily involved by helping to feed the incubating female and hatchlings and work tirelessly defending the nest.

The short-eared owl is widely dispersed throughout the world. They are found in every continent except for Antarctica and Australia. Canada’s population is one that is considered to have seen declines, however, global population are beginning to stabilize in more recent years. Short-eared owls require large areas of unfragmented lands, so development has had a negative impact on them.

Short-eared owls are one of those species that may live in our backyard, but we rarely see. A species that is out of sight, out of mind like the short-eared owl is sometimes forgotten, but if you are lucky enough to witness one as it hovers over the prairie it is an image that you won’t soon forget.

The newly branded Shared Legacy Partnership is working hard to alleviate threats for species at risk such as the short-eared owl and improve their habitat through effective communication and coordination between the partners and targeted outreach. We have three key areas of focus: nature, culture, and economy. To learn more contact Norm at info@sharedlegacymb.ca or visit our website http://www.sharedlegacymb.ca