The Northern pygmy owl is a sight that never fails to fascinate — its unmatched beauty strikes a chord with pretty much everyone. This little creature is one of the smallest species of owl and at hardly 18 centimetres tall it’s only a little bigger than a pop can.
While it’s arguable that everything about the pygmy owl makes it a visual treat, it’s the pair of black patches it has on its nape that really renders it a sight to behold. These patches give the illusion that the owl’s eyes are set at the back of its head. Researchers have revealed that these “eye spots” are intended to distract and confuse attackers and serve to protect the front of the bird’s eyes and head.
The bird weighs only about 70 grams (2.5 ounces) and an interesting fact is that females are bigger in size as compared to males, if only slightly. Its shading of grey and brown plumage with white spots on its wings, head and back aren’t atypical to owls, but put together just so, this owl has an unusual appeal. In addition, streaks of light coloured marks go down its belly. Perhaps, it’s the contrast offered by hues on the bird’s body against the backdrop of its surroundings that makes it a favorite among bird watchers and photographers of all abilities.
Pygmy owls have a round head, and golden beak and eyes. In the event of danger, these pint-sized creatures raise their ear tufts in alarm, bearing a resemblance to miniature versions of the horned owls. While they have a special taste for small mammals, they devour insects and amphibians as well.
Pygmy owls are indeed aggressive predators despite their small size. Sometimes called “bloodthirsty” (as far as pygmy owls are concerned) looks can be deceiving. They’re ferocious in their hunting, using the “perch and then pounce” strategy. In fact, they’re known to have taken down prey double their own weight.
As far as their habitat is concerned, unlike other owl species, they’re generalists and will happily make their homes in deep forest areas, open stands, immature stands or clearings.
From a photographer’s eye, the Northern pygmy owl is nothing short of a beauty. And I’d argue it’s the ravenous ferocity burning in its eyes that gives it the ability to grab attention instantly.
Northern pygmy owls aren’t seen everyday in the Kamloops area but fortunately, they aren’t an endangered species and continue to thrive despite environmental stresses and increasing habitat loss.