The short-eared owl is a medium sized owl. It is a yellowish-brown, some very pale, others darker. All have a white belly. The facial disk is rounded. There is a broad whitish “fan” around the bill. The eyes being a strikingly pale yellow in a “wedge” of black.
Whilst the short tufts are not normally visible, it will display its tufts when in a defensive pose.
Short-eared owls are often found in the same vicinity as the similar-looking long-eared owl. At rest, the ear-tufts of long-eared owl serve to easily distinguish the two (although long-eared owls can sometimes hold its ear-tufts flat).
The eyes also help to differentiate the two owls. For the short-eared owl the iris colour is yellow whereas for the long eared it is orange. The black surrounding the eyes is vertical on long-eared, and horizontal on short-eared. Overall the short-eared tends to be a paler, sandier bird than the long-eared.