Little Owl

Little Owl

Athene noctua
Population size
5-10 mln
Life Span
3-15 yrs
180 g
22 cm
56 cm

The Little owl is a small bird of open country that inhabits much of the temperate and warmer parts of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Its head is flat-topped, the body is plump and compact, and the tail is short. The plumage is greyish-brown, spotted, streaked, and barred with white. The underparts are pale and streaked with a darker color. It has long legs, and yellow eyes, and its white “eyebrows” give the bird a stern expression.


Little owls are widespread across Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Their range in Eurasia extends from the Iberian Peninsula and Denmark eastwards to China and southwards to the Himalayas. In Africa, they are present from Mauritania to Egypt, the Red Sea, and Arabia. These are sedentary birds which are found in open countryside in a great range of habitats. These include agricultural land with hedgerows and trees, orchards, woodland verges, parks, and gardens, as well as steppes and stony semi-deserts. They are also present in treeless areas such as dunes, and in the vicinity of ruins, quarries, and rocky outcrops. They sometimes venture into villages, suburbs, and urban areas.

Little Owl habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Little owls are generally solitary and mainly active at dawn and dusk. They usually perch in an elevated position ready to swoop down on any small creature they notice. These birds may also pursue prey on the ground and they cache surplus food in holes or other hiding places. Little owls are territorial and the males normally remain in one territory for life. The home range, in which the bird actually hunts for food, varies with the type of habitat and time of year. If a male intrudes into the territory of another, the occupier approaches and emits its territorial calls. If the intruder persists, the occupier flies at him aggressively. If this is unsuccessful, the occupier repeats the attack, this time trying to make contact with his claws. In retreat, an owl often drops to the ground and makes a low-level escape. Little owls become more vocal at night. Their call is a querulous kiew, kiew. They may also utter various whistling or trilling calls. In the breeding season, pairs may call in duet and various yelping, chattering, or barking sounds are usually made in the vicinity of the nest.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Little owls are carnivores. Their diet includes insects and earthworms, as well as small vertebrates including amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Mammals taken included mice, rats, voles, shrews, moles, and rabbits.

Mating Habits

late spring
28-29 days
8-9 weeks
owlet, fledgling
3-5 eggs

Little owls are monogamous; pairs often remain together all year round and the bond may last until one partner dies. They usually breed in late spring. The nesting location varies with habitat and can be located in holes in trees, in cliffs, quarries, walls, old buildings, river banks, and even rabbit burrows. The female lays a clutch of 3 to 5 eggs (occasionally 2 to 8) which are broadly elliptical, white in color, and without gloss. They are incubated by the female who sometimes starts sitting after the first egg is laid. While she is incubating the eggs, the male brings food for her. The eggs hatch after 28 or 29 days. At first, the chicks are brooded by the female and the male brings in food which she distributes to them. Later, both parents are involved in hunting and feeding the young. The fledglings leave the nest at about 7 weeks and can fly a week or two later. Usually, there is a single brood but when food is abundant, there may be two. When the young disperse, they seldom travel more than about 20 kilometers (12 mi). Reproductive maturity is usually reached at 1 year of age.


Population threats

Little owls are common and widespread and not considered globally threatened. However, in some areas of their range, these birds suffer from habitat loss, farming practices, serve winters, pesticides, road traffic deaths at night, and persecution.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Little owl population size is around 5,000,000-9,999,999 mature individuals. In Europe, the breeding population consists of 618,000-1,170,000 pairs, which equates to 1,240,000-2,340,000 mature individuals. Overall, currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Little owl is closely associated with the Greek goddess Athena and the Roman goddess Minerva and hence represents wisdom and knowledge.
  • The genus name of the Little owl, Athene, commemorates the goddess, whose original role as a goddess of the night might explain the link to an owl.
  • Little owls can see green, yellow and blue colors and are able to distinguish between different shades of grey, which helps them to better see at night.
  • When in flight Little owls look like woodpeckers.
  • Little owl molt from July until November and males usually start before females.
  • Male Little owls defend their territories more actively against strange males as compared to neighboring males; Little owls are even able to recognize familiar birds by voice.
  • When disturbed Little owls start to bob their head up and down.


1. Little Owl on Wikipedia -
2. Little Owl on The IUCN Red List site -

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