An owl sits in a tree, her large round eyes searching for her prey. She sits quietly, patiently. Suddenly she spies a shrew crawling around underneath the leaf litter below. Waiting for the opportune moment, she shifts her weight, launches…and misses. Landing on a nearby branch tries again. She sits, waits, listens…
Chances are when you thought of an owl, you pictured the stoic Great Horned Owl, or the majestic Barn Owl. Few would think of the Northern Pygmy Owl. Compared to a Great Horned Owl length of roughly 20 inches (or around 50 centimeters), the Northern Pygmy Owl stands a whopping 6.5 inches (or 16 cm) with a 12 inch (30 cm) wingspan. One of the smallest owls in North America, adults can weigh around 2.5 ounces (70 grams) which is about the same as ½ cup of fresh blueberries, 3 AAA batteries, or 28 pennies!
Although they are small, Pygmy Owls are ferocious hunters. They will typically feed on small songbirds caught in flight. In addition to songbirds, Pygmy Owls feed on small mammals and insects and have been known to prey on birds up to three times larger than they are including the Northern Flicker or California Quail.
These owls are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They lack the asymmetrical placed ears and flattened facial disks that most owls have to help them hear, which may make the Pygmy Owls rely more on their sight. During the evening, when most owls wake, Pygmies are returning to their nests in tree cavities such as those carved by woodpeckers. They are non-migratory birds and stay in the same general location year-round, however, they will move up and down in elevation with the seasons. Winter brings them down to the Corvallis area, and this past winter, Chintimini Wildlife Center saw two Northern Pygmy Owl patients.
The first was a male brought to us in November after being hit by a car. He was in shock, emaciated, and suffering from mild head trauma. He was quite tiny for a male, weighing in at only 48 grams, but after four months in our care, he put on about 20 grams, healed nicely, and was just released last week!
Our second Pygmy Owl patient this winter was a good sized female who was brought in after being hit by a car. She came to us in great shape, weighing in at 70 grams. She was released at the same location she was found after two weeks of rehabilitation.
Not the most well-known owls, Northern Pygmy Owls are unique in many ways. I never realized how small owls could be until I began volunteering at Chintimini. I will be keeping an eye out for them, and an ear out for their call during my next hike. Will you?
– Emily Nicholson, CWC Tuesday PM Shift Leader