After some recent email correspondence with my friend about Short-eared Owls, and given their high numbers in my area this winter ( PI), I decided on a bit of research. My friend Bob was telling me about viewing these birds in their breeding grounds up near Churchill in Canada. From there the conversation went to questions about southern breeding populations , specifically in Mass. Looking through Veit & Peterson’s, BIRDS of Massachusetts, it seems that SEO’s in the 1900’s were breeding on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Monomoy, Muskeget, Orleans & Tuckernuck. I'm sure the numbers dropped as the years went on. The count in 1985 was about 20-25 pairs breeding across these locations.
Today I am really only finding evidence that they are breeding on Tuckernuck Island, an area of about 900 acres, & 35 summer houses. Even on this sparsely settled island there seems to be only a few pairs left. The only other information about current probable breeding in Mass came from an Mass Audubon post about SEO’s displaying in Marshfield in 2008, at the Daniel Webster Sanctuary.
That doesn’t quite count.
I have read that the over all population in North America is something like 20,000 + pairs. I bet this is a rough estimate, but to be sure they are in drastic decline. From 1966 to 2003 statistics show SEO populations dropping by 80% in the US. As they are highly migratory, one should assume this implies Canada as well.
For places like Plum Island SEO’s seem to be mainly a winter visitor, and I don’t see any breeding records for Essex County. From late November 2011 to now…March 2012, I have seen 19 SEO’s. I have no idea if they are the same birds or not, I assume at least a few are. The sightings have been split between Plum Island and the Nelsons Island areas. Oddly enough I did see one SEO on Plum Island last July as well, not the normal time to be in the area. Aside from the one freak summer bird, all sightings for me have been November through April. With Jan-Feb of 2011 having high numbers as well, 6 birds.
I do find it interesting that the vast expanses of marsh and beach habitat between Ipswich, Rowley and Newbury do not hold year round pairs. There is quite a bit of protected land between them all. Perhaps too many predator’s in this area for a ground breeding bird, or to much boat activity ? Wish I knew. But those are the MA facts I have dug up so far.
SEO flying 100 + feet up PRNWR
mid afternoon, an odd time