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Eurasian Pygmy Owl - Glaucidium passerinum

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Calls - Glaucidium passerinum
Typical call Rüschegg, Schwarzenburg District, Switzerland. March 2011. CC Manuel Schweizer

Introduction: The Eurasian Pygmy Owl is a very small pygmy owl with a rounded head and no ear-tufts.

[For help with terms used in the description, see parts of an owl. For general characteristics common to most owl species, see owl physiology.]

Description: The indistinct facial disc is pale greyish-brown with several darker concentric lines formed my minute dark spots. The eyebrows are whitish, and the eyes are yellow. The cere is grey and the bill yellowish-horn.
Upperparts are dusky chocolate-brown or greyish-brown, the crown being finely spotted creamy-whitish, while the back and mantle have small whitish dots near the lower edge of individual feathers. The nape has false eyes (occipital face) consisting of two large blackish spots surrounded by whitish. Flight feathers are barred dusky and pale, while the tail feathers are brown with about five narrow whitish bars.
The throat is whitish, while the rest of the underparts are off-white, with brown mottling on the sides of the breast and flanks, and brown streaks from the throat to the belly.
Tarsi and the base of the yellowish toes are feathered whitish to brownish-white. Claws are dark horn with blackish tips.

Size: Length males 15-17cm, females 17-19cm. Wing length males 93-106mm, females 101-110mm. Tail length males 53-60mm, females 58-65mm. Weight males 47-72g, females 67-83g.

Habits: Most active at dusk and dawn, but also during the daytime. Not normally active at night.
Eurasian Pygmy Owls are expressive birds - When excited, one will cock its tail, flicking it from side to side. When angry, the feathers of the body and head are raised, and when frightened, they are held tightly against the upright body. Flight is woodpecker-like and undulating over a distance.

Voice: The Male's normal call is a sequence of monotonous, clear fluted notes spaced at about 2 second intervals: gewh, gewh, gewh...  When excited, this is followed by a quick succession of 3-6 staccato notes, sometimes with a trilling character.
The Female's voice a similar, but higher pitched and thinner.
Both Male and Female make a 5-7 note rising scale call - the last note being a broken or "false" tone. These calls are given mostly before and after the breeding season at dusk or dawn. Immatures also make this call during Autumn, when searching for their own territory.
The contact call is a soft "gew" sound, made by both males and females.
When uneasy, they give a series of accelerating "gui" notes that increase in volume and pitch.

Hunting & Food: Eurasian Pygmy Owls hunt ground prey from a perch, swooping on potential prey after watching and waiting. Small birds are ambushed and caught in a dashing flight.
Small birds make up much of a Pygmy Owl's diet  - Thrushes, Crossbills, Chaffinches, Leaf Warblers, and Pied Flycatchers being common prey. They also take birds approaching their own size, such as the Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush or Hawfinch. Small mammals are also important food, especially voles, mice and shrews. Other prey taken include small lizards, bats, fish, and insects.
Food is often cached in tree holes, or on branches. This occurs more often in Winter.
Pellets average 28 x 12 mm.

Breeding: Pair formation begins in Autumn, and following a break in Winter, continues in Late Winter / early Spring. The Male will sing at different places in its territory, and if previously paired, the female will soon join him. Unpaired birds often duet. The male then guides the female around his territory, and shows her various nest sites. If the male is using the same nest hole as the last breeding season, then this will be the only one he shows her. Eurasian Pygmy Owls are monogamous, and will sometimes pair for more than one breeding season. Males are very territorial, and may use the same territory for up to 7 years.
Nest sites are normally cavities produced by the Great Spotted or Three-toed Woodpecker. The tree will usually be coniferous, but also birch and beech. They will also take to nest boxes.
If the female accepts the nest hole, she stays near it, or visits it at dusk, and is fed by the male.

The pair will clean the nest cavity before the female lays 3-8 white eggs (27-31mm x 22-24mm) at 2 day intervals. Pygmy Owls are one of the few species that don't start incubation until the last egg is laid. The female alone incubates the eggs for 28-29 days, only leaving briefly in the evening or morning to be fed by the male. She will often enlarge the nest cavity using her bill to tear small chips from the inner wall.

Young hatch almost all at the same time, and are brooded by the female for 9-10 days. By this stage, their eyes will be open. The male continues to bring food, which the female collects and takes back to the young. At about 3 weeks, the nestlings start to look out of the nest hole, and the female will only enter the cavity to feed them or remove waste. The young leave the nest at 30-34 days - the entire brood usually taking a period of 3-4 days to leave. They are fed by the female for about a week after leaving the nest, and then the male will share the duties for a time, and then will look after them himself (while the female leaves to molt) for 4-6 weeks, after which they begin to disperse. The young are able to reproduce at about 9-10 months old, and are fully mature at about 1 year.

Mortality: Eurasian Pygmy Owls live for 6-7 years in the wild, sometimes longer in captivity.

Habitat: Primarily coniferous forest of the boreal zone and corresponding montane coniferous and mixed forest in higher mountains.
Prefers semi-open mature forest with clearings. Nest sites are often surrounded by moist or swampy terrain, with a water source and groups of younger spruces nearby.

Distribution: Central and Northern Europe, Eastward to Siberia. Adults are generally resident, but may move to lower altitudes (south) in severe winters. Immatures tend to move about in Autumn and Winter, and have been seen as far west as Britain.

Distribution of Eurasian Pygmy Owl - Glaucidium passerinum
Distribution of the Eurasian Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum

Status: Not globally threatened. Has disappeared from parts of Germany due to deforestation and increasing populations of the Tawny Owl Strix aluco.

Original Description: Linnaeus, Carolis. 1758. Systema Naturae (Syst. Nat) ed. 10: p 93.

Subspecies: G. p. passerinum, G. p. orientale


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Duncan, James R. 2003. "Owls of the World: Their Lives, Behavior and Survival". Firefly Books
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". Yale University Press
König, Weick and Becking. 1999. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World". Yale University Press
Mikkola, Heimo. 1983. "Owls of Europe". Buteo Books
Mikkola, Heimo. 2012. "Owls of the World: A Photographic Guide". Bloomsbury
Voous, Karel H. 1988. "Owls of the Northern Hemisphere". The MIT Press

Page Information:

Page compiled by . Page last updated 2013-08-09 Owl Species ID: 190.010.000

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