Eurasian Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum)

Eurasian Pygmy Owl

[order] STRIGIFORMES | [family] Strigidae | [latin] Glaucidium passerinum | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Eurasian Pygmy Owl | [FR] Chevechette d’Europe | [DE] Sperlingskauz | [ES] Mochuelo Chico | [NL] Dwerguil


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Glaucidium are very small and tiny owls. They have rounded heads without ear-tufts. Their eyes are yellow. In many species the talons are, in relation to their size, very powerful. The facial disc is not very distinct. Some species have a large dark patch with a pale border on each side of the nape of the neck, looking like false eyes. Many are partly diurnal and sing from exposed perches. These are mostly very tenacious in the hunt, and show little fear, even of approaching humans. Glaucidium is a worldwide genus, containing some 30 species. Most of the Asian species, and some of the African species show physical and behavioural differences that suggest they might be better placed in Athene, and DNA evidence suggests that there is only a distant relationship between the Old World Pygmy Owls and those of the New World.

Physical charateristics

Generally dark rufescent to greyish-brown, above spotted whitish, below streaked brown and off-white. The sides of the breast are mottled brown. There is a prominent, white half-collar around the back of the neck. The tail is brown to grey-brown with 5 narrow, whitish bars. The head is round and there are no ear tufts. The facial disk is not well defined, the face being whitish, with small brown markings, mainly in the form of 2 or 3 broken, concentric rings around each yellow eye. The Bill is yellowish, as are the bare parts of the feathered toes. Legs are also feathered, claws are dark horn with blackish tips.
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.

Listen to the sound of Eurasian Pygmy Owl

[audio: Pygmy Owl.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 34 cm wingspan max.: 36 cm
size min.: 15 cm size max.: 19 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 27 days fledging max.: 30 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 9  


Eurasia : widespread


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.


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 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.

Feeding habits

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.

Video Eurasian Pygmy Owl


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be fluctuating, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Glaucidium passerinum is a widespread resident across much of northern and parts of
central Europe, which accounts for less than half of its global range. Its European
breeding population is relatively small (<110,000 pairs), but was stable between 1970- 1990. Although the key population in Russia declined during 1990-2000, the species was stable or increased across the rest of its European range?including sizeable populations in Norway, Sweden and Finland?and probably remained stable overall.
This small owl inhabits coniferous forests in boreal regions of Eurasia, from Scandinavia to Sakhalin. Isolated populations also inhabit the mountainous regions of central Europe (the Alps, the Carpathians and northern Greece). It is sedentary. The population of the European Union (12 Member States) is difficult to estimate but does not exceed 1000 breeding pairs. The total European population is estimated at 31000 pairs, the Russian population not included
Eurasian Pygmy Owl status Least Concern


Mainly resident. Degree of dispersal higher in northern than in central Europe, and north European birds eruptive at irregular intervals. Eruptions probably triggered by combination of cold weather and rodent scarcity; invasions not synchronous over all of Fenno-Scandia, though larger ones manifested in all 3 countries at once. Reluctant to cross open water, so erupting birds seldom penetrate south of Baltic.

Distribution map

Eurasian Pygmy Owl distribution range map


Title Does predation maintain tit community diversity?
Author(s): Cecilia Kullberg and Jan Ekman
Abstract: European tits of the genus Parus constitute a comp..[more]..
Source: OIKOS 89: 41-45. Copenhagen 2000

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Title Influence of snow cover on food hoarding in Pygmy Owls Glaucidium passerinum
Author(s): Halonen, T. Mappes, T. Meri & J. Suhonen
Abstract: Voles are the most preferred prey of Pygmy Owls (G..[more]..
Source: Ornis Fennica 84:105-111. 2007

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