Close up of a Short-eared Owl. Photo credit: Photography by Eric Ellingson, creative commons Close up of a Short-eared Owl. Photo credit: Photography by Eric Ellingson, creative commons

Species at Risk Highlight - Mǫhgwı̨ Wedzıı̀ba Nek’ǫ̀ą (Short-eared Owl)

This month’s highlight on a Species at Risk is the Mǫhgwı̨ Wedzıı̀ba Nek’ǫ̀ą (Short-eared Owl). This mǫhgwı̨ has a vast range including parts of Eurasia, South America, Africa, the US, and all over Canada. It is one of only eight mǫhgwı̨ species found in the NWT.

This mǫhgwı̨ is considered medium in size and is distinguished by its brownish and beige colouring which gives it a speckled appearance, as well as its flight pattern which is described as moth-like. The mǫhgwı̨ wedzıı̀ba nek’ǫ̀ą often arrives in the NWT in April or May each year to nest. This breed of mǫhgwı̨ is the only breed that builds their own nests and will often lay about seven eggs, usually in June. The owlets typically hatch near the beginning of July, and they likely leave the territory for the winter sometime in October.  

Their numbers have been in rapid decline since the 1960; however, some evidence suggests that around 2002 their numbers stabilized. The threats that the mǫhgwı̨ wedzıı̀ba nek’ǫ̀ą face include habitat loss and degradation, likely caused by human activities, predominantly in the south. Climate change may also be a factor, particularly in the north, as the habitat on the tundra could change, or the population numbers of prey they rely on, though it is difficult to predict what these impacts may look like.

This species was assessed by COSEWIC as a species of Special Concern in 1994 and 2008. As such, in 2012 the mǫhgwı̨ wedzıı̀ba nek’ǫ̀ą was listed as Special Concern under the Federal Species at Risk Act. The national management plan for the mǫhgwı̨ wedzıı̀ba nek’ǫ̀ą may be found on the SARA Registry. The mǫhgwı̨ wedzıı̀ba nek’ǫ̀ą has not been assessed under the Northwest Territories Species at Risk legislation though the NWT General Status Ranking Program lists it as Sensitive. If you would like more information, you can view the stats on this species on the NWT’s Species at Risk Page.