Little Owl

Little Owl

Description and Identification

The Little Owl Athene noctua is a small owl of the family Strigidae. It is a partly diurnal but mostly nocturnal species and often perches fully in the open. It nests in holes in trees or buildings, but also nests in cliffs, quarries, stone walls or directly in ground. Their diet consists of insects, small amphibians, snakes and small birds (Svensson et al., 1999).
Their identification is simple with no confusion species in the UK; all other owls are considerably larger. They are a small and compact species with a rounded head and an average wingspan of 54-58 cm (RSPB, n.d.). Colouration is brown above, boldly speckled white on the back and upperwings but more finely speckled white on the head, with whitish but heavily brown-streaked underparts. Their white ‘eyebrows’ give them a stern expression. Their flight is fast and they bound like a woodpecker over long stretches but exhibit continuous wingbeats on shorter flights.

Little Owl, South Essex, January 2014 (Max Hellicar)


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Athene
Species: A. noctua

Distribution and Status

The Little Owl was introduced to Britain in 19th century, being a non-native resident and breeding species. They occur throughout most of England, parts of Wales, and just creep over the border into the far south of Scotland. They are absent from Ireland and occur as a native resident throughout much of Eurasia and Northern Africa. The UK population is estimated to be 5,700 pairs, with an approximate decline of 24% between 1995 and 2008 (RSPB, n.d.).

There are three known pairs on UEA campus, with four to five pairs in the nearby vicinity. Having heard them many times at night from my room and nearby, yet failing to see them, it was satisfying to at last catch up with one on campus on 28th March 2019.

Little Owl, UEA, 28 March 2019 (Max Hellicar)

This was a very pleasant morning which started with a check of the moth trap at dawn (05:30), the highlight of which was a Lead-coloured Drab, but more about that in a separate blog post… From here, I spent the rest of the morning birding across campus and the adjacent marshes which, in addition to the Little Owl, produced a single Woodcock (high east over Lusty Hills), Brambling, six singing Blackcap, 26 singing Chiffchaff, four Coot, two Egyptian Goose, 39 Teal, two Gadwall and six singing Cetti’s Warbler. Unfortunately I have not found any scarcer spring migrants on campus yet, but I keep dreaming of Garganey, Ring Ouzel and Wheatear among other species and hopefully my daily checks of the marshes will soon yield something of more interest.

References and Sources of Information

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. (n.d.). Little Owl Bird Facts. Retrieved March 30, 2019, from Royal Society for the Protection of Birds:

Svensson, L., Grant, P. J., Mullarney, K., & Zetterstrom, D. (1999). Collins Bird Guide. London, UK: Harper-Collins.