I read the coolest article today from the journal Ontario Birds by the Ontario Field Ornithologists by Kristen Keyes and Michel Gooselin and learned that sometimes you can find something really cool buried in a drawer of old museum specimens! Keyes was doing some graduate research on short-eared owls when she came across a most unusual specimen. Check out the bird in the middle in the photo below:
From left to right, we have a short-eared owl, Keyes discovery, and a long-eared owl. In her research, she found that the mystery owl specimen was received in 1991 from Avian Care and Research Foundation. The bird had been found in 1990 with a broken wing. They tried to rehabilitate it, but the bird had to be put down and then the carcass was donated to the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Everything about the bird puts it right in the middle of the two species from coloration to body part measurements. For example, a short-eared owl's wing measurement should be between 283.5 - 307.5mm. A long-eared owl's wing measurement should be between 269.5 - 295 mm. The mystery owl's wing measurement is 294 mm--right in the middle. There are several other interesting features, take a look at the breast plumage compared to the other species--fascinating stuff.
How the heck did this happen? Was a long-eared chasing a short-eared, suddenly realized they were each the opposite sex and much like a predictable sitcom, fighting turned to mating?
You can read more in the April issue of Ontario Birds, published by the Ontario Field Ornithologists (who graciously gave me permission to use a photo and reference the article in my blog). It analyzes the hybrid's intermediate characters and uses color photos of all angles of the birds and of short-eared and long-eared for comparison.
Reference: Gosselin, M. and K. Keyes. 2009. A Long-eared Owl x Short-eared Owl (Asio otus x A. flammeus) specimen from Ontario. Ontario Birds 27(1):23-29.