The Impressive Acrobatic Skills Of A Hunting Short-eared Owl

I only had a single cooperative bird yesterday morning but he was a doozy.

I love flight and behavioral shots of Short-eared Owls but until yesterday morning those kinds of images have eluded me this spring. The occasional perched owl that takes off away from me is all I’ve been able to get.

 

1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

But this bird, a male I believe, finally cooperated. He was hunting voles from fence posts and he was so intent on his hunting he seemed unconcerned by my presence and made three attempts at voles in the few minutes I was with him. This series of nine images will document one of them.

He spotted or heard something, presumably a vole, in the grassy strip between the road I was on and his perch and…

 

 

1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

in an instant he was after it.

 

 

1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I was able to stay locked on to the bird for multiple frames after he left the post and flew almost directly toward me.

 

 

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is a pano crop to accommodate those incredibly long wings in a horizontal position.

 

 

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

At this point the metal post must be several feet behind him but this angle and his foot position make it look like he’s still pushing off from it.

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

When he dropped down far enough to put the fence directly behind him in the nearby background…

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I had more difficulty keeping sharp focus on the bird so in these final three flight shots the owl isn’t as sharp as I like. As a result I had to add more sharpening during processing than I like to.

Ok, here’s where he demonstrated his speed and acrobatic skills. At this point he seemed to be focused on prey on the ground directly in front of him but at the last millisecond as he approached it he appeared to spot something else of interest (presumably another vole) in the tall grass below him and to his right. His reaction to the rapidly changing situation…

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

was so incredibly quick as to be blinding. By raising one wing, lowering the other and using his tail as a rudder he instantly altered his direction and speed and pounced on something else in the grasses to his right.

This maneuver reminded me of one of those patented Northern Harrier hunting moves that is so unbelievably quick it always knocks my socks off when I see it. It was nothing more than dumb luck that allowed me to keep most of the bird in frame and sharp enough to be used for documentary purposes.

 

 

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

But sadly the owl’s athletic attempt at prey was in vain – when he eventually lifted off from the grasses he came up empty.

But after this attempt he tried twice more and on the third try he was successful. And he wasn’t through impressing me with his athletic ability either. He demonstrated it once again and I’ll probably post a few photos of that performance in the very near future.

I’m convinced from the changing hunting behaviors of the few Short-eared Owls I’m seeing that they’re now feeding young. If so I hope to be lucky enough to see some of them in the near future.

Ron

 

 

 

 

Facebook

47 comments to The Impressive Acrobatic Skills Of A Hunting Short-eared Owl

  • Chris Sanborn

    And I’m even later to this party than Diane — I have been checking your posts daily but have been “too busy” with work the last week or so to write any pithy comments (ha). These images, though, require that I at least add my “kudos” to everyone else’s because they are spectacular, Ron! I’m becoming a big SEO fan because of you — that beautiful, expressive face, those amazing, impressive wings in all their formations … just wow! (And thanks, too, for the last week’s PEFA, Swainson’s & Red-tailed Hawks, and the Sphinx moth pics & info). One of the latter visited my backyard salvia just 2 weeks ago and I’m still hoping for a return sighting. Could never have imagined a hawk would find it nutrition-worthy! Thanks again — and a belated Happy Birthday to you, too! 😁

    • Chris, I’ve yet to see a sphinx moth this year and last year I saw very few. Just like birds their numbers can vary quite a bit from year to year.

  • Diane Bricmont

    Late to the party, Ron, but what a spectacular series! I can only imagine how you felt capturing this action in the field and then enjoying it all over again once you got a look at these images on your computer! Well done!!!!!

  • Barby Anderson

    I have never seen an owl like that in person. So pics like this are a real treat, and seeing the massive long wings was really something. You made my day Ron! 🙂

  • It is still well before dawn here. Starting my morning with owls is a wonderful, wonderful start to the day. And something I always take as an omen for a good day ahead. Thank you.
    Yes, I know it isn’t rational, but it is true.

    • I know that getting up early feeling, EC. I awoke at 2 AM this morning and got up at 2:30. I’m so weird – I wake up and worry about stuff in the middle of the night. It often keeps me from sleeping. Stupid!

      • Laura Culley

        HA! I do the same thing…it annoys the dogs when I get up in the middle of the night (they sleep with me) so I apologize, but there you have it. The good thing about waking in the middle of the night is it’s quiet and you can get a lot done. The downside is that a nap is required during the following day 🙂

  • Debbie

    These photos are so fantastic. I love every one of them. I’m glad he found something in the end. And it wasn’t dumb luck. Only an experienced photographer like you could have gotten these amazing shots. Thank you for sharing Ron. Can’t wait to see the rest.

  • Great series of images Ron. I love how you captured the owl’s stare and focus on the prey.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Wonderful series! The short-ear is the ultimate in owlishness….amazing how they can perch on those narrow metal posts. Great action shots!!!

    • Patty, they actually seem to LIKE perching on those skinny metal posts (dammit). Often there’ll be a nice big ol’ wooden one right next to it and they’ll still choose an ugly, pointy metal post.

  • Alice Beckcom

    What a treat to see this beautiful owl in action. You seem to have captured an entire event, which is wonderful to see as well as educational. I so look forward to your daily postings. Thank you for your efforts and talent.

  • Laura Culley

    Yet again, oh just WOW! I’m continually delighted at the athleticism of raptors in addition to the sheer intensity of their gaze! And you caught that in each and every one of these shots! You’re just amazing! To see this outrageously amazing focus/athleticism in slices of time so that us mere humans can see the details (since our eyes just don’t work that fast) is a special treat!
    For me, that’s the addictive part of falconry–seeing this wonderfulness up close and personal. I turn into a two-year-old, clapping and jumping up and down saying, “Do it again! Do it again!” There’s just nothing like it! If your jaw doesn’t routinely drop to the ground, I would suggest that you check your pulse. You could be dead!
    Again, just OH WOW!

    • Laura, I actually expect raptors to impress me with bursts of athleticism but when I see it happen it STILL blows me away!

      • Laura Culley

        Ron, I GET that. I’ve been at this falconry thing for about 25 years now and it still takes my breath away. It just NEVER gets old 🙂

  • Jennie Townsend

    Mr. Dudley, I am slack-jawed at your images. I’d like to know if you have observed short-eared owls hunting with, and sometimes stealing, from Northern Harriers.

    • Jennie, Yes – several times I’ve seen behaviors that seems to suggest harriers and SEO’s might be hunting cooperatively to some degree. Whether or not that’s really what was happening I just don’t know. More often than not they seem to harass each other.

      I’ve seen harriers try to steal prey from SEO’s (my friend Jerry Liguori shot great video of that actually happening) but I don’t think I’ve seen SEO’s try to steal prey from harriers.

  • Susan Stone

    What a wonderful series! I love the shot where he’s changing direction, and also the one where his wings are up for lift off. I also love the bird’s intense focus on his activity. SEOs are just beautiful. This post made my morning. Thank you!

  • Marty K

    Magnificent! That “I’ve changed my mind” shot us something else! Bravo for capturing it! Too bad that after all the aerial acrobatics he came up empty. 🙁

    • Marty K

      Is, not us. Damn iPad!

      • Patty Chadwick

        Ha! I’m not crazy after all! These evil iPads HATE US and do their sneaky best to sabotage us!!! Marty has one, too….

    • Marty, as you know finding food isn’t an easy task for these owls – they work hard at it and eventually their persistence usually pays off. Thankfully it did for this bird too.

  • Barby Anderson

    This incredible Ron. I can’t believe the super long wings! So fun to see your pics!

    • Barby, while out looking for birds this morning I was wondering to myself if any other owl species has longer wings compared to body size than SEO’s. I’d be surprised if another species beats them.

      • Laura Culley

        IF anybody has longer wings, it MIGHT be a barn owl. They’re pretty impressive, too (said like other owl/raptor species aren’t…yeah right).

  • Kent Patrick-Riley

    Incredible.

  • Impressive performance by bird and photographer.

  • Ann

    The owl’s intense stare as it takes off is mesmerizing. In the last shot it looks as if the owl is hoping no one saw it miss getting its prey. I wish I could have seen this in motion. Some day. . . .

    • I wish I could have “seen” it too, Ann. 🙂 It all went down so incredibly fast that I didn’t know WHAT happened until I looked at the images at home on my computer.

  • Dick Harlow

    Super series Ron, excellent shots all, in my opinion.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Congratulations Ron! Outstanding series!

    Charlotte

  • Sharon Constant

    Wow! Fantastic dynamic images! I love them.

  • Judy Gusick

    WOW! Wonderful series of shots, Ron. The flexibility of those wings at the shoulder is amazing even if the 2nd to last shot remind me of Galileo hanging on the fence when you found him.

    • You’re right, Judy! That shot is eerily similar to the one I took of Galileo hanging on the fence. I’m surprised I hadn’t noticed that!

  • Dominique Gusset

    great series of shots !