Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In the woods... Northern Pygmy-Owl

Northern Pygmy-OwlNorthern Pygmy-Owl, Timber, Oregon on 22 November 2007 by Greg Gillson.


When someone mentions "owl" your thoughts may jump to the "Tiger of the Night," the powerful hunter that is the Great Horned Owl.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl is probably not the first bird one associates with the word "owl." After all, at 6 and 3/4 inches in length, this cute little gnome (scientific name is Glaucidium gnoma) is much shorter than a Starling, and weighs about the same. It has a toy-like whistled "toot" call. It is active during the day.

But don't let it fool you. It is a ferocious little predator. It eats insects, mammals, and birds, often up to twice its own size. It tends to sit on a perch (often quite conspicuously in the open) and then drop down on its prey. These small owls, in turn, may be hunted by larger owls--it is not a kind world out there.

The whistled call is easily imitated. This may attract these owls to you in more mature dense woods (as with the bird photographed above). More often, though, a whistled imitation attracts a flock of chickadees, nuthatches, crossbills, tanagers and other forest birds to mob the "owl" and drive it away. On many occasions I have heard a flock of Red Crossbills flying high over the forest and whistled a pygmy-owl imitation and brought them in for a landing near me. Sometimes I get a whistled reply back from my imitation. While it may be a pygmy-owl responding, it may just as likely be a Gray Jay, who does a good job of imitating the Northern Pygmy-Owl.

Pygmy-owls nest in old woodpecker holes, often flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, and sapsucker holes, the woodpeckers typical of the dense forest stands where this owl lives. They are found in conifer forests in Western mountains, from SE Alaska through western Mexico.

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