Little Owl - Athene noctua
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Short description of Athene noctua, Little Owl
This owl is little more than half the height of the familiar tawny owl. The upperparts are brown, spotted with white, and the breast is whitish with heavy brown streaking. Low white brows and staring yellow eyes create a characteristically fierce expression. Flight is fast and deeply undulating.
Impact summary: Athene noctua, Little Owl
The long-established nature and relative stability of the population means that its impacts on native wildlife can no longer be determined. Most observers believe that these impacts were negligible.
Habitat summary: Athene noctua, Little Owl
The little owl is essentially a bird of farmland, where it reaches highest density in lowland areas with many old trees. Tree holes provide most nest sites but the species can nest also in deserted buildings and in rabbit holes.
|Native range||Europe, Asia-Temperate, Northern Africa, Northeast Tropical Africa|
|Status in England||Non-Native|
|Status in Scotland||Non-Native|
|Status in Wales||Non-Native|
|Location of first record||Walton Hall, Yorkshire|
|Date of first record||1842|
The species is native very widely across the Palaearctic, north to Denmark, Latvia and Mongolia and south to the Sahara Desert, Ethiopia and Yunnan. Related species replace it in the Americas and in the Oriental region.
The first releases of little owls are thought to have been in Yorkshire in 1842 but later releases from 1874 in Kent and 1888 in Northamptonshire were the first to establish viable populations.
Pathway and Method
The species was deliberately introduced to GB, probably for reasons of pest control. There was rapid natural spread from several of the sites of introduction. The birds successfully introduced to Northamptonshire were brought from the Netherlands.
The species is thought to have a stable population globally and is of least conservation concern. Apart from GB, the only other known non-native population is in South Island, New Zealand.
Little owl is not a migratory species and, for a bird, has slow dispersal and a great reluctance to cross open water. Birds released in Northamptonshire during 1888-90 are believed to have spread to Rutland by 1891 and Bedfordshire by 1892.
Little owls are strongly territorial, hole-nesting birds. Nests are normally in trees but can also be in disused buildings or underground, for example in rabbit burrows.
Habitat Occupied in GB
In New Zealand, little owls are a major predator of the endangered Cromwell chafer beetle Prodontria lewisi, and may limit its population. Its largely non-overlapping distribution there with the small native owl Ninox novaeseelandiae suggests there may be competitive exclusion, though this may be driven more by habitat preferences than direct interactions. There are no birds of similar ecology in GB and little owl is not a significant predator of other birds. Interactions with native invertebrates are likely, however, but unknown.
Health and Social Impact
Biology, ecology, spread, vectors
Management and impact
Thomas, A.C.W. 2013. Little owl. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
Spotted this species?
View the Distribution map for Little Owl, Athene noctua from NBN Atlas