Athene (bird)

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Temporal range: Late Miocene to recent
Athene noctua.jpg
Little owl, Athene noctua
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Athene
F. Boie, 1822

Athene blewitti
Athene brama
Athene cunicularia
Athene noctua
Athene superciliaris
and see text


Spheotyto (lapsus)

Athene is a genus of owls, containing two to five living species, depending on classification. These birds are small, with brown and white speckles, yellow eyes, and white eyebrows. This genus is found on all continents except for Australia, Antarctica, and Subsaharan Africa.

The genus name, Athene is from the little owl, Athene noctua which was closely associated with the Greek goddess Athena, and often depicted with her. Her original role as a goddess of the night might explain the link to an owl.[1]

Living species[edit]

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
Athene brama 1.jpg Athene brama Spotted owlet tropical Asia from mainland India to Southeast Asia
Athene noctua (portrait).jpg Athene noctua Little owl Europe, Asia east to Korea, and north Africa
Forest Owlet.jpg Athene blewitti - sometimes placed in Heteroglaux Forest owlet central India
Athene cunicularia -Vale do Ribeira, Juquia, Sao Paulo, Brazil-8.jpg Athene cunicularia - sometimes placed in Speotyto Burrowing owl North and South America
White-browed Owl (Athene superciliaris), Madagascar.jpg Athene superciliaris White-browed owl Madagascar

Extinct species[edit]

A number of mainly island representatives of this genus are only known from fossil or subfossil remains:

  • Athene megalopeza (fossil; Rexroad Late Pliocene of WC USA) - sometimes placed in Speotyto
  • Athene veta (fossil; Early Pleistocene of Rebielice, Poland)
  • Athene angelis (fossil; Middle - Late Pleistocene of Castiglione, Corsica)
  • Athene trinacriae (Pleistocene)
  • Athene cf. cunicularia (fossil; Pleistocene of Barbuda, West Indies) - sometimes placed in Speotyto
  • Athene cf. cunicularia (fossil; Pleistocene of Cayman Islands, West Indies) - sometimes placed in Speotyto
  • Athene cf. cunicularia (fossil; Pleistocene of Jamaica, West Indies) - sometimes placed in Speotyto
  • Athene cf. cunicularia (fossil; Pleistocene of Mona Island, West Indies) - sometimes placed in Speotyto
  • Athene cf. cunicularia (fossil; Pleistocene of Puerto Rico, West Indies) - sometimes placed in Speotyto
  • Cretan owl, Athene cretensis (prehistoric; Crete, Mediterranean)

The Cretan owl was a flightless or near-flightless form that was more than 50 cm (almost 2 ft) tall. It went extinct soon after the island of Crete became inhabited by humans.

Late Miocene (about 11 mya) fossil remains from Rudabánya (NE Hungary) have been tentatively assigned to this genus.[2] Considering the known fossil range of Athene and the misassignments of many Miocene strigids from Europe, it may be a basal member of the present genus or not belong here. The supposed species "Athene" murivora is the name given to subfossil bones of male Rodrigues owls.

    • Antiguan burrowing owl, Athene cunicularia amaura - extinct (c.1905)
    • Guadeloupe burrowing owl, Athene cunicularia guadeloupensis - extinct (c.1890)


  1. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 58, 274. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  2. ^ Bernor, R.L.; Kordos, L. & Rook, L. (eds): "Recent Advances on Multidisciplinary Research at Rudabánya, Late Miocene (MN9), Hungary: A compendium. Archived 2007-06-28 at the Wayback Machine" Paleontographica Italiana 89: 3-36.