• Dirk

Athene noctua – the little owl

It is always surprising when you see an owl, as these swift and noiseless flyers looks like ghosts in the night, and you can usually only get a short glance on them before they vanish from your sight. It is even more surprising if you see an owl during the day. There are not many owls which are active during daylight, usually when human activities are low as in early morning. We had the luck that a little owl couple installed themselves not far away from our home. Its scientific name is Athene noctua, even so it is active during the day its main activity is during the night, hence its name noctua from night.





The Little Owl Athene noctua is a highly threatened owl species whose populations have significantly decreased or are locally extinct in many European countries. They have a mean generation time of 4.4 years. The mean home range size of radio-tracked Little Owls was estimated to 0.94 ha, but could reach up to 4.30 ha. The home ranges vary in size over the year, e.g. home ranges are small in April–June, when they incubate eggs and occupy nests, while home range gets larger July–August during fledging season. The most important foraging habitat during the entire breeding season is grassland, as found in farmlands. Little Owls prefer sparse and short sward vegetation patches that enabled hunting of ground-dwelling prey, such as small mammals.




In pellets of the little owl very different prey species have been found, including 12 mammalian, 1 amphibian, 4 reptile and 4 bird species. Mammals are dominant in the food, and the consumption of amphibians was frequent. Among the birds, the Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) proved to be the most commonly predated species apart from other species closely related to farmland habitats (Motacilla alba, M. flava, Passer montanus).




Needed Conservation Actions

Provision of nest boxes and pollarding of old nesting trees has been successful in Belgium and Germany at offsetting declines.


Conservation Actions Proposed

Measures should address conservation at the wider countryside scale. The preservation of the species’s habitat, including old trees and hedges, as well as the reduction in the use of pesticides are important. Organochloride pesticides should be replaced with less aggressive products or biological pest control methods. The provision of nest boxes should continue. The maintenance of perches near roads (2 m high, 10–15 m apart and 5 m from the road), is advisable to help reduce car-collisions. Further research into habitat requirements, population size and trends and threats is required (Tucker and Heath 1994).

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