Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Northern Pygmy-Owl

Glaucidium gnoma

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.
Conservation status Generally uncommon, but widespread; no evidence of general declines.
Family Owls
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Pacific
  • adult, Interior West
  • adults, Interior West
  • owlets, Interior West
  • adult, Pacific
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.


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.

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.


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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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

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Migration

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

Songs and Calls
A series of mellow whistles on 1 pitch. Also a thin rattle around the nest.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Owls

Northern Pygmy-Owl

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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