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Species Guide
A photo of a Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Little Owl

Little Owl

Athene noctua

The Little Owl, Athene noctua, is a diminutive yet distinctive bird, often associated with the goddess Athena in Greek mythology and Minerva in Roman lore. This bird is characterized by a flat-topped head, a robust, compact body, and a relatively short tail. Its plumage is a mottled greyish-brown, adorned with white spots, streaks, and bars, giving it a cryptic appearance. Both sexes are similar in size, measuring approximately 22 cm in length with a wingspan of 56 cm, and weighing around 180 grams.

Identification Tips

The Little Owl possesses a large head, elongated legs, and striking yellow eyes. Its white "eyebrows" lend it a somewhat stern expression. Juvenile birds are somewhat duller than adults and lack the white crown spots. The species is known for its woodpecker-like bounding flight. During the moult, which occurs from July to November, males begin shedding feathers before females.


This owl favors open countryside and thrives in a variety of habitats, including agricultural lands with hedgerows and trees, orchards, woodland edges, parks, gardens, steppes, and semi-deserts. It can also be found in treeless areas such as dunes, and near human-made structures like ruins and quarries.


The Little Owl's range spans much of temperate and warmer parts of Europe, the Palearctic east to Korea, and North Africa. It has been introduced to Britain and the South Island of New Zealand, where it has established populations.


The Little Owl is known for its territorial nature, with males defending their territories from intruders. It is partly diurnal and can often be seen perched in prominent positions during the day. Its diet consists of insects, earthworms, other invertebrates, and small vertebrates. The owl is adept at swooping down on prey from its perch and is known to cache surplus food.

Song & Calls

The Little Owl's call is a querulous "kiew, kiew," and it also produces various whistling or trilling sounds. During the breeding season, it may emit more modulated calls, and pairs can engage in duets. Near the nest, the owl may make yelping, chattering, or barking noises.


Breeding season sees increased vocal activity at night in late spring. Nests are located in a variety of places, including tree holes, cliffs, and old buildings. The female lays a clutch of about four eggs, which she incubates. The male provides food during this period, and both parents feed the chicks once hatched. Young owls fledge at about seven weeks of age.

Similar Species

The Little Owl can be confused with other small owl species, but its distinctive "eyebrows," yellow eyes, and flight pattern help differentiate it.

Diet and Feeding

The Little Owl's diet is diverse, including mammals like mice and voles, birds, and a wide range of insects. It hunts both on the ground and in flight, and food caching behavior has been observed.

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Little Owl as "Least Concern" due to its extensive range and large overall population, which appears to be stable.

Little Owl Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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Little Owl Fun Facts

Did you know?
In Greek history, the Little Owl is closely associated with the Goddess Athena.

Little Owls on Birda


More Owls

A photo of a Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Aegolius acadicus
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