November 2013 - Little Owl

Taken by Dominic Gwilliam-Bell - Honingham Thorpe Farms, 16th August 2012

The little owl is the smallest of the British owls and is relatively common around and about Bawburgh. The other owls which may be seen around here are the barn owl and the tawny owl. Originally introduced into Southern England in the 19th century, the little owl is recognised as a non-native species and as such has generally been ignored compared to the other owl species. In 2009 the British Trust for Ornithology recorded 5,700 little owl pairs compared to 4,000 pairs barn owl (1995-97 survey) and 50,000 pairs tawny owl (2005 survey)

Little owls can be seen during the day all year round in pastures, arable lands and villages, although they hunt at night and dawn. Their favourite perches are tree branches, telegraph poles, rocks or indeed the roof tops of buildings, and roost sites will be used by successive generations of birds. Their diet is made up largely of invertebrates such as beetles and worms, although they will also take small mammals (particularly voles) and birds such as sparrows and starlings. In this respect they may compete to some extent with kestrels and barn owls. They will also take young rabbits, even though they may weigh as much as the owls themselves; once the talons lock on, they simply won't let go! Apparently when the birds are feeding on earthworms, they have been seen to fall backwards as they extract large individuals from the ground in a tug of war. Little owls start to breed at just one year old and have a typical lifespan in the wild of three years. In captivity they may live for much longer and 10 years has been recorded. 

Little owls are creatures of habit. A pair will remain in their own home territory all their life and will defend it against all invaders.

Historically this bird was embraced elsewhere in Europe and in the Mediterranean they were often kept as pets. According to the ancient Greeks, these birds were considered to have great powers, probably due to their hypnotic gaze, and they were dedicated to the Greek Goddess of wisdom - Athene. In fact its Latin name Athene noctua means 'wisdom goddess of the night'.

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