The Great Horned Owl sighting left me so excited that I decided to try spotting a second owl: The Short-eared Owl. The common open grasslands bird is a winter resident of the Stuttgart Municipal Airport. Past trips yielded no results so I finally got my hands on a map of where exactly to look and headed back out.
The trip lasted less than an hour and was a complete success. First, the trip started off on a great note when I discovered an airport employee was back at work after a long bout of illness. After signing in, I immediately stepped out of the airport’s office to find Northern Harriers, Killdeer and Red-winged Blackbirds.
My next stroke of luck came when the below-pictured plane took off, stirring up the owls. I counted about eight in all. According to the National Audubon Society, Short-eared Owls are in serious decline over much of its range with the primary threat being the destruction and degradation of open habitat. I think the owls are fascinating because you can find them easily throughout the day.
The Stuttgart Municipal Airport was originally prime farmland the U.S. government bought for an air force training site during WWII. After the war, the property was handed over to the City of Stuttgart for use as a municipal airport. Today, the military still uses the airport for training exercises.
The airport also remains busy with agricultural-, business- and hunting-related flights as well as birders. Audubon Arkansas and the City of Stuttgart previously started a 252 acre prairie restoration project for grassland birds. There are now prescribed fires, non-native plant control and rubble removal to benefit 13 prairie bird species of great conservation need. According to Audubon Arkansas, the project “continues a landmark collaborative working towards the long-term goal of a 2,000-acre core of contiguous native grassland suitable for the reintroduction of the Greater Prairie-Chicken to Arkansas.”