Northern Pygmy Owl photo by Tim Greenfield

Northern Pygmy Owl

This is a little woodland species, with a small head, stout body, short wings, and a long tail. Females are larger than males. Plumage is brown above, with spotting on the head, neck, and upper parts; the breast, belly and flanks are whitish and streaked dark brown; the brown tail is barred. The face has white and brown bands, with yellow eyes and bill, and a white chin; the throat is brown with white spots. Large, black, false eye spots on the back of the head may help the little owl evade predators, by giving the impression that this bird is bigger than it really is. Plumage is similar between the sexes, although males may be slightly grayer, and females slightly redder in coloring. This owl will sometimes adopt a concealment posture, erecting little feather tufts on the head, compressing the body feathers, and drawing one wing across the front of the body to blend into a wooded background. Flight is mostly short, perch to perch movements, in a low, undulating pattern just above the ground.

 

We do not currently have any resident Northern Pygmy Owls.

Notes

Scientific Name

Glaucidium gnoma

Size

Length: 6.75" ave.

Wing Span: 12" ave.

Weight: 2.5 oz. ave. 

Status

[Pygmy Owl Newly Released] State and federally protected. 

Habitat

This little owl has adapted to a variety of forest habitats with nearby clearings, from deciduous bottomlands, to high elevation coniferous forests, to wooded canyons in arid regions. Any forest environment where cavities excavated by woodpeckers make nest sites available. 

Diet

Northern Pygmy Owls are diurnal and semi-nocturnal hunters. With their small size and high metabolic rate requiring frequent hunting, they seek food throughout the day, as well as at dawn and dusk. Their diet is primarily small birds, insects, and mice, with occasional amphibians and reptiles. These birds are visual hunters. They lack the silent flight feathers, the well-developed facial feather disc, and the asymmetrical ear structure of owls that hunt by ear. "Perch and pounce" is the preferred method; prey is located by sight, then the owl glides and dives in for the kill. These ferocious little hunters will go after birds their own size, or even larger. 

Call

The characteristic call of this little owl is several toots, one or two seconds apart, followed or preceded by a higher-pitched, rapid trilling note. 

Nesting

Northern Pygmy Owls rely on woodpeckers to create cavities suitable for nest building, although natural cavities will also be used if available. These owls use bark strips, feathers, mosses and lichen to line their nests. The few nests found have been surprisingly deep - as much as 36". 

Most Common Problems

Sometimes collide with vehicles, or fly into windows. Forest habitat for this species is lost through removal of nesting snags with woodpecker holes.

Range Map

Ranges from Alaska and western Canada, down into mountainous areas of the western US and Mexico, to Central America. Resident year-round throughout its range, it moves to lower elevations in winter.

 

 

Special Thanks for range maps:

Dan Gleason
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design
CraneDance Communications
Book Production/Design