Little Owl

Athene noctua

21-23cm

Appearance

The smallest owl of the region, the Little Owl has a rounded body and a short tail. The sexes are similar. Upperparts are brownish and spotted white, pale breast is darkly streaked, and the eyes are vivid yellow with white 'eyebrows'. Juveniles resemble adults but they don't have the white spotting on the head, and they're duller overall.

Habitat

Is fairly flexible with its habitat when in the region, mostly living on or near farmland with woods, copses and hedges. Breeding may occur in places such as parks, orchards or water meadows.

Character

Active during the day, though most hunting happens between dusk and midnight, and a lot of it is at ground level. When flying the wingbeats are often fast and the bird dips and soars; at other times the flight can be undeviating.

Food

Diet includes shrews, voles, beetles, caterpillars, moths and earthworms.

Breeding

Most commonly nests in holes in trees. Female lays 3 or 4 eggs in April and May, and she incubates the clutch for 29-31 days. Female broods for first 2 weeks and then both parents hunt for food. Young learn to fly at about 37 days old, but they may explore near the nest before then.

Population

Not a migratory bird; juveniles depart breeding sites at the end of summer but it's uncommon for them to travel any significant distance. Approximately 5700 pairs breed in Britain and none in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The dusk call of this owl is perhaps the best signifier of its presence, and unlike some other owls, it is active in the day so may be seen on a perch or in flight while the sun is up.

Voice

Has a persistent 'kiu-kiu' call that often accompanies courting in March and April, and is usually heard around dusk. Males may also give a singular hoot.
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