Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium californicum)

Northern Pygmy Owl

[order] STRIGIFORMES | [family] Strigidae | [latin] Glaucidium californicum | [authority] Sclater, 1857 | [UK] Northern Pygmy Owl | [FR] Chevechette naine | [DE] Gnomenkauz | [ES] Mochuelo Californiano | [NL] Noordamerikaanse 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

The Northern Pygmy-Owl is a small, long-tailed owl, with yellow eyes and feet. It has only small and inconspicuous ear-tufts, which are seldom seen in the field. Its plumage is reddish-brown spotted with white. Like all members of its genus, it has false eye-spots, black outlined in white, on the back of its neck. Its belly is white, with dark streaks. It usually perches in a diagonal rather than upright position

Listen to the sound of Northern Pygmy Owl

[audio: Pygmy Owl.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 15 cm size max.: 17 cm
incubation min.: 27 days incubation max.: 28 days
fledging min.: 27 days fledging max.: 28 days
broods: 0   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 4  


North America : West.


Northern Pygmy-Owls breed in coniferous and mixed woodlands. They prefer areas with scattered openings rather than large tracts of unbroken forest.


Monogamous pairs form in the spring. Northern Pygmy-Owls nest in natural tree cavities or old woodpecker holes. They do not add nest material. The female incubates 3 to 4 eggs for about 28 days, waiting for all the eggs to be laid before beginning incubation, a behavior unique among North American owls. While she is brooding, the male brings her food. The female stays on the nest and broods the young for the first week or so after they hatch. During this time, the male continues to bring food to the nest. The young begin to fly at 27 to 28 days

Feeding habits

Northern Pygmy-Owls eat rodents, large insects, and small birds, which make up to one third of their diet in some places. While they are most active at dawn and dusk, Northern Pygmy-Owls are often seen during the day, especially when it is overcast. They usually perch in the open at the very top of a conifer or snag or in a small tree. When perched, they commonly bob their heads and flick their tails up and down, often holding their tails to one side. Northern Pygmy-Owls are aggressive hunters, fast enough to chase prey in flight. Small songbirds often mob them, and imitating the call of a Northern Pygmy-Owl will often bring songbirds close in for observation.

Video Northern Pygmy Owl


copyright: Don DesJardin


Glaucidium gnoma and G. californicum (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) have been lumped into G. gnoma following AOU (1998)


While Northern Pygmy-Owls do not undertake a regular seasonal migration, birds at higher altitudes may wander down-slope in fall and winter, as they follow the movement of their prey. During this time they may be seen at the lower edges of forests, along streams in the shrub-steppe region, and even in hay fields and pastures. North America from Southeast Alaska to South Baja

Distribution map

Northern Pygmy Owl distribution range map

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