Athena’s little owl, one of the smallest owls


Highly esteemed in ancient Greece, the little owl was the messenger of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Portrait of a small nocturnal raptor with furrowed brows and big yellow eyes.

Little owl identity card

Athena’s little owl (Athene noctua) is the most little bird from the family of owls which also includes owls. These nocturnal raptors live on all continents except the Antarctic continent. The species does not exhibit sexual dimorphism, females being simply greater than males, as in most raptors. In the Greek mythology, the little owl traditionally symbolizes or accompanies Athena, the goddess of wisdom, from whom the bird borrowed its name. The raptor measures on average 26 cm long, weighs up to 200 g for a wingspan of 45 to 50 cm.

Description of Athena’s owl

This compact bird sports a big head, a massive body, short wings and tail. The adult has brown plumage spotted with white above, white streaked with brown below. Its brown crown is finely speckled with white. On his two facial discs little marked, we notice yellow eyes with black pupils, topped with thick eyebrows white and a straw-colored beak. The legs are covered with white feathers up to the fingers. The juvenile closely resembles the adult, but its plumage is more uniform is much less contrasted.

Home of the little owl

Athena’s Owl breeds in the vast majority ofEurope (with the exception of the Scandinavian countries), in the Middle East, in Central Asia, as well as in the North of Africa where it is very present in the Maghreb and along the Nile valley. The bird is naturally absent from the Islands British – where it was introduced – and most of Russia. The owl likes the countryside where it finds open areas, the great plains agricultural, fields, meadows, groves, hedges, orchards, groves and wooded paths. To nest, the cave species searches for cavities in old trees, stone walls and ruined buildings.

Feeding the owl of Athena

The diet of the little owl consists mainly ofinvertebrates (large insects such as locusts, earwigs, beetles, grasshoppers but also earthworms). The raptor completes its menu with rodents such as voles and field mice, small reptiles (lizards), amphibians (frogs, toads) and some passerines. The owl usually hunts from a observation post high or, more rarely, in low-level spotting flight. Like all raptors, it rejects the indigestible remains of its prey in the form of balls regurgitation.

Little owl behavior

Athena’s owl is a bird sedentary which stays all year on its territory. The nocturnal raptor usually awaits the dusk to go hunting. It can occasionally be seen during the day, on the lookout for potential prey, perched on a mound or other support: old wall, pile of rubble, fence post or electric pylon. If the little owl does not seem to fear man, whose frame it sometimes occupies, it keeps its distances and knows how to remain discreet.

Athena’s owl nesting

The little owl is monogamous and his sedentary lifestyle helps to unite couples until the death of one of the partners. As with all nocturnal raptors, the female does not build a nest but lays her eggs directly on the substrate of the cavity which is of two kinds: arboreal or rupestral. If the hollow of a old tree represents the ideal location, a building with holes in the walls under the roofs may be suitable. In the absence of a cavity, a pile of pebbles or a rodent’s burrow is sometimes used, but this choice constitutes a danger facing predators.

Reproduction in the little owl

Between mid-April and early May, the female lays 3 to 6 eggs within a day or two ofinterval. Fed by the male, the female incubates alone for 28 to 33 days. The chicks – which weigh 10 to 12 g at birth – remain under their mother for a fortnight while the male takes care of the refueling of the family. If the young owls take their first flight when they are 4 to 5 weeks old, they remain under the addiction adults for another month. After 2 months, the juveniles permanently leave the territory of their parents.

Athena owl: state of the population

The marten, fox, ermine, cats and some large raptors are among the main predators little owl. In the sixties, its population declined due to the massive use of pesticides and more recently, because of the degradation of its habitat (consolidation, disappearance of meadows and dead trees, urbanization). The collisions with vehicles are today one of the main causes of death. Over the past twenty years, however, we have observed a improvement in the evolution of its numbers and this protected species is not considered as threatened at the global level. The longevity of Athena’s owl is 15 years old.