Short-eared owls are medium-sized birds that hunt over grassy fields and marshes and are most likely to be seen at dusk, when field marks begin to fade. They breed across Alaska and northern Canada and south in the West to the center of the United States and in the East to New England and the eastern Great Lakes.
They breed farther south sporadically and winter from southern Canada through the southern United States, except for the southern tier states, where they are rare. In winter they can occur in a large part of the United States.
These owls are most frequently seen in flight and in fading light, so the field marks used for perched birds are rarely helpful. Short-eared owls vary from white to buffy below but they are streaked only on the throat and upper breast.
As a result, flying birds look decidedly two-toned below, paler on the breast and belly, and darker on the throat. The two-toned look is slightly muted on birds that have a buffy wash across the breast and belly, but it is still visible.
Both long-eared and short-eared owls have wing tips that are darker than the rest of the wing, but the color is concentrated on the short-eared owl so that it looks like the bird has solid black wing tips when seen either from above or below.
Short-eared owls are relatively quiet, but they will call, and their short, sharp barking notes, similar to those of a small dog, are distinctive.