Monday, 14 December 2015

A pair of Shorties (or what exactly do Short-eared Owls eat?)

The past couple of nights have seen a bit of very successful lamping, both inland and on the coast. On Friday Jacques and I headed up to the Ceri Ridgeway to try and ring a few more Golden Plover. Halfway across the first field I spot a double eye-shine in the beam (this is unusual as with waders you almost always get just one). Initially I thought it might have been a polecat but as I got closer I could make out the unmistakable shape of a Short-eared Owl. Now walking a bit more carefully,  I edged forward until I was close enough to drop the net on it. Only then could I see that, even whilst under the net, it was still holding on tightly to a decapitated Fieldfare it had partially plucked and eaten. Jacques seemed pretty pleased and got to ring his 101 species as a trainee, which isn't bad going in just over 7 months!!. The rest of the fields yielded 5 Woodcock, 7 Golden Plover, 2 Fieldfares (with heads) and a Snipe. We also watched the same or another Shorty in hot pursuit of a Golden Plover that had just flushed in the beam!

This bird was aged as a first-year female based on tail pattern and the
 buff background colour and barring on the outer secondaries. 

The following evening Jane joined us and we headed down to Ynyslas to see what waders we could catch on the high tide. There were a good number of Redshank present and we quickly caught 23 (and could have easily caught another 10) before realising that I only had 22 'D2' rings on me! Was a bit traumatised to have to release one without a ring!

Having run out of rings for Redshank we decide to have a quick walk around the fields for Woodcock, Snipe and Jack Snipe. Halfway around the usual beat, having failed to get anywhere near any of the 20+ Snipe flushed, I get a double eyeshine in the beam again. As I get closer I can see it is another Short-eared Owl! Only one problem, there's a great big pool of water between me and it. Go round or keep it in the beam and go straight across? I opt for the latter and walk as quietly as I can through the middle of the pool. Thankfully, the owl sits tight and is soon under the net and I can then see why it was reluctant to fly off - it was sitting on the half-eaten remains of a freshly killed Lapwing!

This bird was also aged and sexed as a first-year female although on seeing these photos I'm beginning to doubt the sexing of the first bird? It could just be the different lighting but it appears to be much paler than this one. Advise from anyone with more  experience of the species is very welcome!

Over the past few winters we have caught (or narrowly missed) several Shorties whilst they were on freshly caught prey items - Lapwing (2), Redshank, Knot and Fieldfare. I'm staggered at the size of prey they will tackle - Short-eared Owls weigh around 300g whereas a Lapwing weighs about 250g and a Redshank about 150g so that's a half to well over two-thirds their own body weight! They are clearly fearsome predators of waders and surprisingly nocturnal too!

PS Since this post went live some concern has been expressed to BTO by another ringer that these owls may have been near starvation and that is why they were reluctant to fly off! By way of reassurance I can confirm that both these owls were perfectly fit and healthy and weighed 309g and 335g respectively - well within normal limits. TC.


  1. So it's you hoarding all of the Shoties this winter. Nice that some are finally around tho, I've only see one all winter!! Awesome totals, it's surely going to be the winter to beat for most species!!
    I've seen a Shortie kill a lapwing, and caught one with a more understandable sized skylark in it's talons, I regularly see them chasing snipe, golden plover etc in the beam!!

  2. Well you had them all last winter!! Funnily enough until this last week I'd only seen two myself, other than the one I caught in Ireland.

    Yes, I'd included your Lapwing but didn't know about the Skylark. Will have to see how long a list we can get!

  3. I was inspired by your captures and having had some tips from a couple of shropshire lads I had my first dazzling trip last night, bar 1 go in Portugal. Haven't seen a shorty in Staffordshire before and never heard of on the farm I ring on - but within 3 mins had one in the lamp and with fluke I caught it. Thanks for the inspiration! Would love a trip over your way. Paul Hopwood

  4. No problem Paul, its great that more and more ringers are trying lamping as an effective technique for ringing birds that are otherwise infrequently caught. The more doing it the better the chance of recording some movements. It took me about 30 years to catch my first Shorty so you obviously have The Force! Keep at it and good luck (although I feel you are probably hooked already!).

  5. I am totally hooked. I will try and email you via Martin George or Paul Ashworth if that's ok

    1. Yes that's fine, be good to hear more.


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