Little Owl (Athene noctua)

Little Owl

[order] STRIGIFORMES | [family] Strigidae | [latin] Athene noctua | [authority] Scopoli, 1769 | [UK] Little Owl | [FR] Cheveche de Minerve | [DE] Steinkauz | [ES] Mochuelo Europeo | [NL] Steenuil


Monotypic species


Athene is a genus of owls, containing two to four living species, depending on classification. These birds are small, with brown and white speckles, yellow eyes, and white eyebrows. This genus is found on all continents except for Australia, Antarctica, and Subsaharan Africa.

Physical charateristics

Small, compact, and plump owl is often seen in daylight, especially around dawn and dusk. Wings broad and rounded, flight undulating, with alternating bouts of flapping and closing wings. Plumage color variable, from grey-brown or rufous-brown to ochre-buff. Upperparts spotted white, underparts splashed. Facial disc obvious on dark birds. Eyes bright yellow, bill pale yellow, legs proportionately long, feathered, pale yellowish to white.

Listen to the sound of Little Owl

[audio: Owl.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 54 cm wingspan max.: 58 cm
size min.: 21 cm size max.: 23 cm
incubation min.: 25 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 30 days fledging max.: 32 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 6  


Eurasia, Africa : widespread EU; North, Northeast AF


Wide variety of habitats from steppes and stony semi-desert to farmland and open woodland, also villages and urban areas.
Avoid tall and dense stands of trees and any dense vegetation, even margins of enclaves between forests, frequently perches on post, tree or telegraph wire, or even buildings, particularly isolated one.


Breeds March-August. Monogamous, pair-bond often persisting all year and perhaps until partner dies. Nest is built in cavity, hole cleaned and scraped hollow. 3-6 eggs are laid, incubation 28-33 days, by female. Chick with grey-mottled down.

Feeding habits

Diet includes largely small mammals and birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates.
Hunting essentially nocturnal and crepuscular, mainly dusk to midnight, rarely diurnal. Hunts by perching on post or similar vantage point, dropping on prey, occasionally hovers. Also hunts on ground, can run rapidly while chasing prey.
Larger prey taken with feet, smaller prey with bill.

Video Little Owl


copyright: Ashley Stow


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 stable, 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 extremely 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.
Athene noctua is a widespread resident across much of Europe (except the north),
which accounts for less than half of its global range. Its European breeding population
is large (>560,000 pairs), but underwent a moderate decline between 1970-1990.
Although the species was stable or increased across much of its European range
during 1990-2000, several populations declined?notably the key one in Turkey?
and the species probably underwent a moderate decline (>10%) overall. Consequently,
it is provisionally evaluated as Declining.
Little Owl status Least Concern


Resident in whole range. Juveniles disperse after breeding season, but never leave breeding grounds all together, Nest in an area of only 20 kilometers of birth site. Juvenile rare vagrant in Scandinavia and Baltic States.

Distribution map

Little Owl distribution range map


Title Effects of habitat loss on perceived and actual abundance of the Little Owl Athene noctua in eastern Spain.
Author(s): Martnez, J. A. & Zuberogoitia, I.
Abstract: […]. The aims of this study are: (1) to reveal h..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 51(1), 2004, 215-219

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Title The monitoring of Little Owl Athene noctua
in Chelm (SE Poland) in 1998-2000
Author(s): I. Kitowski
Abstract: For many years in parts of Europe, Little
Owl Ath..[more]..
Source: ORNIS HUNGARICA 12-13: 1-2 (2003)

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Title Occupancy and abundance of Little Owl (Athene noctua) in an intensively managed forest area in Biscay
Author(s): J. Zabala, I. Zuberogoitia, J.A. Martnez-Climent, J.E. Martnez, A. Azkona
Abstract: We censused a population of Little Owls in Biscay ..[more]..
Source: Ornis Fennica 83:97-107. 2006

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Title Factors affecting the prevalence of blood parasites of Little Owls Athene noctua in southern Portugal
Author(s): R. Tom, N. Santos, P. Cardia, N. Ferrand & E. Korpimki
Abstract: We studied the relationships between occurrence of..[more]..
Source: Ornis Fennica 82:63-72. 2005

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