The Little owl, belonging to family Strigidae, is a true owl species. This bird is also known as Tibet owl and Northern little owl. They are native to the warm and temperate parts of Asia, Europe and North Africa. In the early 20th century, they were introduced in New Zealand; while the Britain population were introduced in the late 19th century. Even though they are called Little owl, yet there are smaller owl species found in Europe, such as the Pygmy owl and Scops owl.
Species: A. noctua
The scientific name for the Little owl is Athene noctua.
Athene noctua is a small owl species with a fluffy, company body; and a short tail. Adult specimens tend to be around 22 centimeters in length on average; with a wingspan of 50 to 57 centimeters. Adults weigh around 180 grams.
The color of their plumage is greyish brown with white spots. The under part is light grey with dark streaks. They have rounded wingtips. It has yellow eyes and white eyebrows. The legs are covered in little white feathers. Its bill and claws are grey. Moulting begins in July and goes on till November. The color of the juveniles are a lot duller, and they do not have white spots like that of an adult.
The Little owl lives in a great variety of landscapes – starting from sea level to 2600 meters above sea level. They prefer to live in places that have open hunting grounds, abundant with prey. A stable climate is also an important factor.
Their population can be seen inhabiting open woodlands, grasslands, semi-deserts, cliffs, gorges, gullies, arid mountain ranges. A scattered population can also be seen in meadows, farmlands, orchards and pastures; as well as in suburban places, parks and gardens. They are mostly tree cavity-nesting species. However, they also nest in holes, rock cavities, burrows of other animals as well as man-made structures.
This species lives in a great range of habitats covering three continents. In Eurasia, their range extends from Denmark and the Iberian Peninsula in the west, China and Korea in the east, to all the way down to the Himalayan range in the south. In North Africa, they are found in Arabia, Egypt, the Red Sea. The introduced population are found in New Zealand, England and Wales.
The Little owl is primarily a territorial species, with males remaining in a single habitat for his whole life, depending on the availability of food sources. Their boundary often expands, especially in the mating season.
This owl species is diurnal. They can often be seen sitting in a tree branch during daytime looking around for potential prey. At times, they go after their prey on the ground. They save surplus foods in their nest.
As the breeding season comes close, males become more vocal after sunset. Their nesting location depends on their habitat. The male emits territorial calls if it sees an intruder in its territory. If the intruder does not leave, the occupier goes after him aggressively. Male defends its territory against unknown males rather known males from a nearby territory.
In urban or suburban areas, they get used to human presence, and they remain seated on a tree branch even if they see humans around.
The breeding period starts with the male patrolling his territory and making calls that serve as a warning to other males and also mating call to attract a mate. Depending on region and habitat, their breeding season starts in early February or late May. Pair bonding is formed with both owls sitting together on a perch, and flying together. During this time, the male feeds the female so that she can gain weight that in turn helps her in egg formation and incubation process.
As their bonding strengthens, their vocalization increases. Both male and female take part in selecting a nesting site. Females lay a clutch of 1 to 7 eggs (however, 12 eggs clutch have been recorded). If the first clutch gets lost for some reason, they often produce a second clutch with a small number of eggs. Incubation starts as soon as the eggs are laid. The incubation period lasts for 28 days on average. After hatching, the owlets stays dependent on its parents for two months. The hatchlings weigh 10 to 13 grams. In the first two to three weeks, the little ones are taken care of by the female. After a month or so, the offsprings start to fly and are able to catch prey on their own. Within 4 to 6 months, the juveniles leave the nesting site. They reach sexual maturity at the age of one.
This owl species is quite an opportunistic carnivore feeding on a great variety of prey including other birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, insects, amphibians and invertebrates.
The median lifespan of the Little owl is 4 years. However, the longest known lifespan of this species is 15 years and 7 months in the wild. The mortality rate of adult specimens tends to be somewhere between 24.2% to 39% each year. In the case of juveniles, this number is a lot higher, ranging between 69% to 94%.
Their primary call is an irritable ‘kiew’ sound. They also utter different chattering, trilling, and whistling calls within the domain of the nest. During breeding season, more attune calls are made. The male produces a mellow ‘gooekk’; while both sexes emit a loud ‘hooo; sound.
It is believed that the world population of this bird is somewhere between five to fifteen million, with Europe covering 25 to 49 percent of the total range. Even though they are found in sufficient numbers in their native habitat, yet the loss of habitat, industrialised farming practices are considered as a great threat.
The chicks and eggs are vulnerable to other large owls, raptors and mammals.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept this species in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
This species is closely associated with the Roman goddess Minerva and the Greek goddess Athena (as it represents knowledge and wisdom). The image of this species along with an olive branch appears on a Greek tetradrachm (an ancient Greek silver coin) from 500 BC.
At times, Little owl pairs stay together throughout the year, and they often stick together for the rest of the years until one partner dies.
Athene noctua hatching success rate stands at 49.3% while the fledging success rate is reported to be 46.6%.
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