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Northern Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium gnoma


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Northern Pygmy-Owl
credit: Dominic Sherony/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Strigidae, Owls view all from this family

Description ADULT Has brown to gray-brown plumage overall (interior birds are grayer than those on Pacific coast). Upperparts are marked with pale spots on wings, tiny white spots on head, and striking whitebordered black false "eyes" on nape; underparts are brown or gray-brown (depending on plumage color overall) on chest, whitish below, but with bold dark streaks. Tail is strikingly barred. Note yellow eyes and bill, and white, eyebrowlike margin to facial disc, between eyes. JUVENILE Similar to adult.

Dimensions Length: 7-7 1/2" (18-19 cm)

Habitat Widespread in coniferous forests. Territories are large, so individual birds are widely spaced, hence status is rather uncommon overall. Mainly resident, but some altitudinal movement seen in winter among mountain-dwelling birds.

Observation Tips Its mainly diurnal habits should make this a relatively easy owl species to see. However, its low density and unobtrusive nature work against the hopeful observer, so the best bet is to learn male's territorial call, identify an occupied territory and stealthily pinpoint caller's location.

Range California, Western Canada, Northwest, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Southwest

Voice Male's typical territorial call comprises a series of evenly spaced (1-2 second interval) piping callsů poo-poo-poo÷ (poo'poo-poo'poo÷ in southwestern montane birds). Call made by female is softer, higher pitched, and more rapid.

Discussion Small, plump-bodied owl with proportionately large, rounded head and relatively long tail. Active during daytime, hunting small birds, reptiles, and large insects, mostly around dawn and dusk. Hunts mainly from a lookout perch and dives down on prey. Flight between perches is swooping and undulating. Sexes are similar, although within geographical variation, females are more rufous than males.