Short-eared owl hunting at dusk in Worlaby Carrs, Lincolnshire, England
© Ben Hall/Minden Picture
Winter birdwatching. Short-eared owl
Silently swooping over the open English countryside in search of its next meal is a short-eared owl, though that's something of a misnomer. Named for the inconspicuous tufts on top of its head that resemble ears, the owl's true ears are on the side of its head, hidden by feathers. But those tiny false 'ears,' which may function as display feathers or camouflage, lend the owl a distinctive appearance, and the short-eared owl is often affectionately called 'shortie.' Here in England, short-eared owls are seen more frequently in winter, when their numbers are boosted by an influx of continental birds migrating from Scandinavia, Russia, and Iceland.
Unlike most owls, the short-eared owl often prefers to be out and about during the daytime, which is good news for British birdwatchers this weekend. Over the next few days, around 1 million people across the UK are expected to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, one of the world's largest wildlife surveys. Beginners and birding experts alike grab their binoculars and spend an hour counting birds they see landing in their garden or local green space. The records provide a vital snapshot of the UK's bird populations each winter.