Northern Pygmy-OwlGlaucidium gnoma

adult, Pacific
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult, Interior West
Dr. Edgar T. Jones/VIREO
adults, Interior West
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
owlets, Interior West
Dr. Edgar T. Jones/VIREO
adult, Pacific
Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Family

Description

In western forests, this little owl is often active by day. It may fly fast and low from one tree to the next and then swoop up to take a high perch, rather like a shrike. An aggressive hunter despite its small size, it catches more birds than most small owls. Little gangs of chickadees and other songbirds often gather to "mob" a pygmy-owl discovered in daylight, and they will react the same way to a birder who imitates the owl's whistled call.

Habitat

Open coniferous or mixed woods, wooded canyons. Found in a wide variety of forest types, including open oak groves, sycamores in canyons, pine-oak woodland, coniferous forest of far north and high mountains. Generally in partly open habitats rather than solid unbroken forest.

Feeding Diet

Includes rodents, birds, insects, lizards. Diet varies with location and season. Rodents such as voles and mice are often major prey, also catches mammals as large as gophers and squirrels. During warm weather, eats many large insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, beetles. Small songbirds are sometimes up to one-third of diet. In southern parts of range, may catch many lizards.

Feeding Behavior

Hunts most actively near dawn and dusk, but also at other times. Watches for prey from a perch, then makes very rapid pursuit flight.

Nesting

Some birds defend territories all year; in breeding season, pairs defend very large nesting territories. Courtship displays at dusk may involve rapid aerial chases through the trees near potential nest sites. In courtship on perch, male feeds female. Nest site is in cavity in tree, either in natural hollow or (perhaps more often) in abandoned woodpecker hole, and usually 8-25' above ground. Eggs: 3-4, sometimes 2-7. White. Incubation apparently is by female only, about 28 days. Young: Both parents take part in providing food for young, with male bringing much of prey, female feeding it to young. Female may roost in nest hole with young at first. Age of young at first flight about 27-28 days.

Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-7. White. Incubation apparently is by female only, about 28 days. Young: Both parents take part in providing food for young, with male bringing much of prey, female feeding it to young. Female may roost in nest hole with young at first. Age of young at first flight about 27-28 days.

Young

Both parents take part in providing food for young, with male bringing much of prey, female feeding it to young. Female may roost in nest hole with young at first. Age of young at first flight about 27-28 days.

Conservation

Generally uncommon, but widespread; no evidence of general declines.

Range

No regular migration, but may wander away from breeding areas in fall and winter, including some downslope movement by mountain birds.

Listen

toot series
paired toots

Similar Species

adult

Elf Owl

Regions near the Mexican border are home to this gnome, the tiniest owl in the world, no bigger than a sparrow. On moonlit nights in late spring, its yapping and chuckling calls (surprisingly loud for the size of the bird) echo among the groves of giant cactus and through the lower canyons. The Elf Owl feeds almost entirely on insects and other invertebrates, which become harder to find in cold weather, so it migrates south into Mexico for the winter.

adult, gray morph

Eastern Screech-Owl

This robin-sized nightbird is common over much of the east, including in city parks and shady suburbs, where many human residents are unaware they have an owl for a neighbor. The owl spends the day roosting in holes or in dense cover, becoming active at dusk. Despite the name, screech-owls do not screech; the voice of this species features whinnies and soft trills.

adult, red morph

Flammulated Owl

The soft, low-pitched hoots of this little owl can be heard (if one listens carefully) in mountain pine forests over much of the west. Seeing the bird is another matter; its variegated pattern of brown and rust makes perfect camouflage when it perches close to a pine trunk. Because it is so inconspicuous, the Flammulated Owl was long overlooked in many areas, and was considered rare until recently.

adult, Interior Southwest

Western Screech-Owl

Inconspicuous but locally very common is this little owl. In the varied terrain of the west, its haunts range from coastal forests in southeastern Alaska to cactus groves in the Arizona desert, and it is often found in suburban areas. Until the 1980s, Western and Eastern screech-owls were considered to belong to the same species because they look so similar; however, their voices differ, and they apparently recognize their own kind by sound.

adult

Whiskered Screech-Owl

In mountains near the Mexican border, this little owl is common in the oak woodlands. Although its voice is distinctive, it looks very much like the Western Screech-Owl, which is common in the same general region. The Whiskered is a little smaller and lives mostly at higher elevations. Western and Whiskered screech-owls are often found side by side in the lower parts of canyons in Arizona, where the desert gives way to oaks and sycamores.

adult

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Birders who prowl through conifer groves in winter sometimes find this round-headed little gnome perched there, sitting still as if to avoid notice. Avoiding notice is a task at which this owl often succeeds; it is overlooked in many places where it occurs. Late at night in the breeding season, males give a rhythmic tooting song that may go on for hours with scarcely a break. The bird was named for this song, which reminded settlers of the sound of a whetstone sharpening a saw.

adult

Boreal Owl

A rather mysterious owl of dense northern woodlands. Except when calling at night in very early spring, it is easily overlooked. Until the 1970s it was not known to breed anywhere south of Canada; recent explorations have shown that it is a resident in many mountain ranges in the western United States, nesting in forest at the highest elevations. In the northeast, winter invasions sometimes bring a few Boreal Owls south to areas frequented by birders.

adult, Western

Burrowing Owl

Cowboys sometimes called these owls "howdy birds," because they seemed to nod in greeting from the entrances to their burrows in prairie-dog towns. Colorful fiction once held that owls, prairie-dogs, and rattlesnakes would all live in the same burrow at once. A long-legged owl of open country, often active by day, the Burrowing Owl is popular with humans wherever it occurs, but it has become rare in many areas owing to loss of habitat.

adult

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Common and widespread in the American tropics, this little owl enters our area only in southern Texas and Arizona, where it is now uncommon to rare. It is often active by day, and may feed on small birds at times; songbirds in its range all recognize its whistled call, and will gather around to mob and harass the owl when they discover it.

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