By David Plummer
Sometimes, as you drive down a country lane, you notice that one of the fence-posts is just slightly higher than the others. Closer inspection reveals a squat angry looking bird perched on it glaring at you. You've just found a little owl!
Small, cute, but full of attitude, the little owl is one of the most commonly seen owls in the British countryside due to its habit of sitting on fence-posts, sometimes in the middle of the day. Despite their size, being not much bigger than a song thrush, and weighing in at about 115 g. they are full of attitude and have an expression reminiscent of an incensed you looking at me!’
Essentially, they are a small grey-brown owl, with various spots and streaks, and white slanting eyebrows. The intense yellow eyes only add to their furious appearance. You may be surprised, though, that the little owl is not a native British species. In 1888, Lord Lilford introduced little owls from Holland into Northamptonshire, and this species has consequently spread across mainland Britain.
They have a habit of nesting in unusual places, rabbit burrows, piles of rubble, stone-walls, and in derelict outbuildings sometimes very close to humans.
People living close to the territory of little owls often complain of being kept awake at night especially when courtship begins in February, when they call from favoured perches. Their most common call being a repeated and ringing ‘Keooow’ sound.
Their food generally consists of insects and worms, if they can get them. However, small birds are also an important part of their diet. I have seen one little owl take a redwing. It is for this reason that they frequently get mobbed by other birds and consequently have the trace of false eye markings on the back of their head. This tends to keep the other birds on their toes, when dealing with this tiny owl, perfectly capable of punching above its weight.
Find out more about owls…
Professional wildlife photographer David Plummer runs a number of courses for Sussex Wildlife Trust.