Bird of the Month: Northern Pygmy-Owl
By Hugh Jennings
Scientific Name: Glaucidium gnoma
Length 6.75 in
Wingspan 12 in
Weight 2.5 oz (70 g)
AOU Band code NOPO
The Northern Pygmy-Owl (NOPO) is about 6.75” long with a wingspan of 12” and weight is 2.5 oz (70g). The genus name, Glaucidium (glaw-SID-ih-um), is shared with the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and is Latin from the Greek glaux, diminutive of glaukidion, meaning a kind of owl, so-called from its glaring eyes. The species name gnoma is Latin from the Greek gnome, a mark, sign, or opinion, to know. According to Coues (1882) gnoma is an apt name for an owl, as “it combines a reputation for wisdom with certain superstitions connected with the gnome-like quality of its knowingness”.
The NOPO is a compact, small owl with a relatively long tail and short wings. Two or three populations differ in overall color and voice. Pacific birds are darkest and brownest. They give very slow single toots (1 note every 2 or more seconds). Interior West birds are grayer overall and they give mainly single toots with some paired notes. The Pacific birds have a brown spotted crown, spotted side and narrow blackish streaks on the belly. The Pygmy-Owls have false eyespots on the back of the head (see accompanying photo; to see a front face view go to the Leavenworth Owling Weekend highlights report on our web site).
Both Pygmy-Owls are very aggressive diurnal bird-hunters, hunting mostly at dawn and dusk. It may fly fast and low from one tree to the next, and then swoop up to take a high perch, much like a shrike.
The Northern is found in oak-conifer woods. There is no regular migration, but may wander away from breeding areas in fall and winter including some down slope movement by mountain birds.
This fierce little owl will attack prey much larger than itself, e.g., it has been known to take Mourning Doves. Its favorite prey is songbirds, which may be 1/3 of its diet, but also eats ground squirrels and rodents and during the summer eats many large insects. Birders may locate the owl by watching for mobbing songbirds and, conversely, attract songbirds by imitating the owl’s call.
The NOPO nests in tree cavities such as old flicker woodpecker holes. There are usually 3-6 white eggs. Incubation is 28 days and the young fledge 27-28 days later. There is only one brood per year.