Little Owl (Athene noctua)

Little Owl

Little Owls are found throughout Europe & Russia, with some sub-species being found in Africa & the Middle East. Around the same time that the Little Owl was introduced into the UK, it was also introduced into New Zealand, where it still thrives.

Fossil records in Derbyshire from around 1/2 million years ago show the Little Owl once to have been native to this country, though at some point the native population died out. The current population were introduced to the country at the end of the 19th & beginning of 20th centuries, mainly being imported from Holland. The population reached peak in 1930's but fell prey to the usually threats - persecution (it is predominantly diurnal, making hunting easy), pesticides, habitat loss & traffic. The currently estimated UK population is between 6000 & 7500 breeding pairs.

The Little Owl is often active during the nighttime, but much of the hunting is done at dawn & dusk. Little Owls prey mainly on insects & earthworms & some small mammals. During breeding season, may venture to small birds, such as sparrows & thrushes. Little Owls have been observed to kill small mammals such as moles & leave them close by their nesting or roosting sites, & as the bodies decompose, feed off of the beetles & small insects that congregate around the body.

Little Owls nest in holes in trees, hedgerows, haystacks &, sometimes, rabbit holes. The low level nesting, especially in farming areas, make them prone to attack by cats. Usually 3-5 eggs are laid, the female does most of the incubation, which lasts around 28 days. The nestlings are initially fed by the male & later by both parents. The young are fully fledged at around 26 days after hatching. Normally only one brood is raised each year, but occassionally two broods may be raised.

Similar to the Burrowing Owl, which is possibly related, when threatened, Little Owls have the habit of bobbing up & down.

Mythology & Folklore :

In Greek mythology, the Little Owl was the messenger of Athene (note the Latin name), the goddess of wisdom. It is possible that the 'wise old owl' idea stemmed from this. Because of the association with Athene, the bird was protected & large numbers nested in the Acropolis (Athene's temple). The image of the bird was used for decoration by the army, believing that it offered them protection & if a Little Owl flew over the army before a battle, it was an omen of victory. The image of the bird appears on many ancient Greek coins, protecting trade & commerce.

In later years, the Romans appropriated the owl as a companion for their goddess of wisdom, Minerva. As they spread, conquering most of Europe, the stories once associated with Athene were retold in the name of Minerva. Consequently, the name of the owl in some countries was derived from Minerva, for example : Minervanpöllö in Finland & Minervauggla in Sweden.

In ancient Mexico, the Aztecs believed that the Little Owl was the messenger of Mictlantecuhli, "The Lord of the Land of the Dead", and it was believed that it flew between the land of the living & the dead.

In Yorkshire, folklore has it that eating salted Little Owl is a cure for gout. It was also believed that eating their raw eggs was a cure for alcoholism, if given to children, the protection would be for life. They were also believed to be a cure for epilepsy & madness.

IUCN Red List Status :

Least Concern (LC)

Also Called :

Belgian Owl
Dutch Owl
French Owl
Indian Owl
Lilford Owl
Little Dutch Owl
Little Grey Owl
Little Night Owl
Little Spotted Owl
Spanish Owl
Sparrow Owl
Welsh Tylluan fach
Scottish Comhachag-bheag (Little Owl)
Irish Ulchabhán beag (Little Owl)
Catalan Mussol comú
Danish Kirkeugle
Dutch Steenuil
Esperanto noktuo
Estonian Kivikakk
Finnish Minervanpöllö
Chevêche d'Athéna
Chevêchette commune
German Steinkauz
Hungarian Kuvik
Icelandic Kattugla
Latvian Mājas Apogs
Lithuanian Pelėdikė
Norwegian Kirkeugle
Polish Pójdźka
Portuguese Mocho-galego
Russian Домовый Сыч (Domovoy Sych)
Spanish Mochuelo Común
Swedish Minervauggla
Chinese zong wen fu xiao xiao (Lengthwise Pattern Belly Little Owl)
Japanese ko kin-me fukuroo (Small Golden-Eyed Owl)

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