Little owl

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Little owl
Mochuelo Común ( Athene noctua )(1).jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Athene
Species: A. noctua
Binomial name
Athene noctua
(Scopoli, 1769)
Steinkauz-Athene noctua-World.png
Range of the Little Owl

Carine noctua

The little owl (Athene noctua) is a bird that inhabits much of the temperate and warmer parts of Europe, Asia east to Korea, and north Africa. It was also successfully introduced to the South Island of New Zealand in the early 20th century.

This species is among the larger grouping of owls that is known as typical owls, Strigidae, which contains most species of owl. The other grouping is the barn owls, Tytonidae.


The little owl is a small owl, usually 22 centimetres (8.7 in) tall with a wingspan of 56 centimetres (22 in) for both sexes, and weighs about 180 grams (6.3 oz).[2]

The adult little owl of the most widespread form, the nominate A. n. noctua, is white-speckled brown above, and brown-streaked white below. It has a large head, long legs, and yellow eyes, and its white “eyebrows” give it a stern expression. This species has a bounding flight like a woodpecker. Juveniles are duller, and lack the adult's white crown spots. The call is a querulous kee-ik.

There is a pale grey-brown Middle Eastern type known as the Syrian little owl (A. n. lilith). Other forms include another pale race, the north African A. n. desertae, and three intermediate subspecies, A. n. indigena of southeast Europe and Asia Minor, A. n. glaux in north Africa and southwest Asia, and A. n. bactriana of central Asia. A 2009 paper in the ornithological journal Dutch Birding (vol. 31: 35-37, 2009) has advocated splitting the southeastern races as a separate species, Lilith's owl (Athene glaux), with subspecies A. g. glaux, A. g. indigena, and A. g. lilith.

Distribution and status[edit]

There are thirteen recognized races of little owl spread across Europe and Asia.[3]

  • A. n. noctua (Scopoli, 1769): from central, southern and south-eastern Europe to north-western Russia.
  • A. n. bactriana (Blyth, 1847): from Iraq and Azerbaijan to Pakistan and north-western India.
  • A. n. glaux (Savigny, 1809): from the coast of north Africa to south-western Israel.
  • A. n. impasta (Bangs & Peters, 1928): central-west China.
  • A. n. indigena (Brehm, 1855): from Ukraine and Romania to Greece and Turkey and southern Russia.
  • A. n. lilith (Hartert, 1913): from Cyprus and southern Turkey to Iraq and Sinai Peninsula (Egypt).
  • A. n. ludlowi (Baker, 1924): Himalayas.
  • A. n. orientalis (Severetzov, 1873): north-eastern Kazakhstan and north-western China.
  • A. n. plumipes (Swinhoe, 1870): Mongolia, southern Siberia and north-eastern China.
  • A. n. saharae (Kleinschmidt, 1909): from Morocco to western Egypt and central Arabia.
  • A. n. somaliensis (Reichenow, 1905): eastern Ethiopia and Somalia.
  • A. n. spilogastra (von Heuglin, 1863): eastern Sudan, Eritrea and north-eastern Ethiopia.
  • A. n. vidalii (Brehm 1857): western Europe.

The little owl was sacred to the goddess Athena, from whom it gets the generic name. This is one of the most widely-distributed owls and, due to its adaptability to human settlements and small size, probably ranks among the world's most populous owl species.

The little owl has an average life expectancy of three years.[2]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]


This is a sedentary species which is found in open country such as mixed farmland and parkland. It takes prey such as insects, earthworms, amphibians, but also small birds and mammals. It can attack birds of considerable size like game birds. It is partly diurnal and often perches boldly and prominently during the day.[4]

Little owl egg (middle) compared with eggs of a goldcrest (right) and chicken (left)
Little owl egg in Museum Wiesbaden
A little owl in Hebron

It becomes more vocal in nights as the breeding season approaches. Nest location varies based on the habitat, nests being found in holes in trees, rocks, cliffs, river banks, walls, buildings etc.[4] It lays 3-5 eggs which are incubated by the female for 28–29 days, with a further 26 days to fledging. Little owls will also nest in buildings, both abandoned and those fitted with custom owl nest boxes. If living in an area with a large amount of human activity, little owls may grow used to man and will remain on their perch, often in full view, while humans are around.

A little owl


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Athene noctua". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Little Owl (Athene noctua)". British Trust for Ornithology. 16 January 2013. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  3. ^ König, C., Weick, F., Becking, J.-H. (2008). Owls of the World (2 ed.). A&C Black Publishers Ltd., London, UK. ISBN 978-0-7136-6548-2. 
  4. ^ a b Baker, ECS (1927). Fauna of British India. Birds 4 (2 ed.). Taylor and Francis, London. pp. 441–443. 

External links[edit]