Little Owl

Athene noctua

The little owl is quite common in many places, and is unique in that it often hunts during the day.

Little Owl

Little Owl

Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Athene noctua



Conservation status:




21cm to 23cm


54cm to 58cm


140g to 220g

What does a Little Owl look like?

The little owl is small with a large, broadly rounded head, long legs and short tail. It has a plump, compact body that is brown above, speckled white. Its underparts are a paler buff-grey with a gorget of heavy streaks on its upper breast. Its tail has four pale-brown bars. Bill is grey-brown. The little owl has white eyebrows over handsome yellow, oblique eyes, which give it a somewhat stern expression. The juvenile is similar to the adult but paler, plumage is more uniform with less streaking and spotting, it also lacks white spots on crown.

Little owl pair

Pair of Little Owls (Credit @whatbertiesaw IG)

What does a Little Owl sound like?

The commonest call is a sharp complaining “kee-aw”, falling in pitch and repeated. The song is a full and mellow, slightly drawn-out, low-pitched hoot with ending upward-inflected, repeated every 5-10 seconds. When alarmed it will bob up and down giving barking and hissing calls.

Simon Elliott, XC611865. Accessible at

Did you know?

It has been shown that the little owl can recognise familiar birds by voice.

What does a Little Owl eat?

The little owl will typically eat large insects, worms, spiders, amphibians, rodents and small birds.

Where can I see Little Owls?

The little owl is widely distributed across Europe. It is a bird of the open country but requires a habitat with abundant perches from where it can watch for prey. It prefers lowland agricultural habitats in the west and more arid rocky gorges in the east of Europe. It is mainly nocturnal. In the UK it is mostly a bird of the lowlands, usually below 500m. They are rarely found in Scotland, preferring to spend their time south of Hadrian’s wall. It can also be found across the entirety of Wales.

Signs and spotting tips

The little owl often takes up a squat posture when alarmed, bobbing in excitement. Its flight is fast and has bounding undulations, similar to a woodpecker. It can be hard to spot, as it flies close to the ground before swooping upwards to perch. They nest in tree holes and one parent can often be seen on sentry duty near the nest.

Little owl on fence

Little Owl on a post (Credit @bennicholson_photography IG)

Little owl on post

Little Owl on a fence (Credit @mapphotosuk IG)

Did you know?

The little owl is also known as the owl of Minerva.

How does a Little Owl breed?

Males hold territories which they defend against intruders. The little owl is a cavity nester. A clutch of about 4 eggs is laid in spring. The male will bring food to the female. The chicks leave the nest at about seven weeks old.

How long do Little Owls live for?

The average lifespan for a little owl is around 3 years.

Do Little Owls migrate?

In Britain, the little owl is sedentary. The male usually remains in one territory for life.

Threats and conservation

The little owl is a common species with a wide range and large total population. It is therefore classed as a species of least concern.

What is a group of Little Owls called?

Known collective nouns for a group of Little Owls are as follows:

  • a volery of little owls

General collective nouns for a group of Owls may also be used:

  • a bazaar of owls
  • a brood of owls
  • a diss of owls
  • an eyrie of owls
  • a glaring of owls
  • a hooting of owls
  • a looming of owls
  • a nest of owls
  • a pair of owls
  • a parliament of owls
  • a sagaciousness of owls
  • a silence of owls (when in flight)
  • a stare of owls
  • a stooping of owls
  • a wisdom of owls

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Learn more about the Little Owl

Similar birds to a Little Owl

Other birds in the Owls family

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