Thursday, November 29, 2012

Owl of the Week: Northern Pygmy Owl

Hello again everyone!  I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.  I myself had an extra helping of mice last Thursday--delicious.  At any rate, this is the final entry in the "Owl of the Week" series.  After today, we will have covered every resident specie of owl in Colorado, and, with the exception of the Mexican Spotted Owl, all the owls the Humans take care of here at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program.  Well, let's get going on the final owl in the series: the Northern Pygmy Owl. Northern Pygmy Owl
These little owls are particularly interesting owls.  Everything about them, from size to nesting habits, is a little different from most owls.  For one thing, they're the smallest specie of owl in Colorado, and the second-smallest in the United States (second to the Elf Owl).  They only stand a few inches tall, and weigh in at just 2-2.5 ounces, about as much as a slice of bread or ten quarters.  But, like most of the small owls (and large owls, for that matter), they are much tougher and more aggressive than their body size implies, and are willing to take on prey much larger than they seem able to kill, such as quail.  Smaller prey, however, is the norm, including small birds, rodents, and large juicy insects.  Showing the false-eyes on the back of the head
Other key features of their appearance:  there are three color morphs (red, grey and brown); their tails are proportionally long for an owl; their eyes are bright yellow; and there are two dark spots on the nape of the neck that look like false eyes.

They are also the only local specie of owl that is truly diurnal.  Northern Pygmy Owls, therefore, are missing many of the adaptations common among other owls, such as silent flight, above-average hearing, and night vision.

Northern Pygmy Owls live in the western United States, southwestern Canada, and in Mexico south through Guatemala.  Their preferred habitat is forest, ranging in elevation up to treeline.  They spend the majority of their time in the thicketed areas of forests, where they hunt from perches and fly rapidly between trees for cover.

Northern Pygmy Owls are almost entirely dependent on woodpecker holes to build their nests.  They live alone the majority of the year, only coming together during mating season.  Unlike most owls, the female doesn't start incubating the eggs until they are all laid, which happens over the course of a week.

The Humans here at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program just released a Northern Pygmy Owl earlier this week!  This bird was found at an intersection in Fort Collins.  The bird was largely uninjured, and had probably been caught in the wake of a car rather than actually being hit by a car.  Either way, the bird needed awhile to recuperate under the RMRP's care before being safely released into more suitable habitat than a city intersection.  Northern Pygmy Owls also are admitted to the RMRP after striking windows, or falling prey to domestic cats.  But rest assured, the RMRP is here to help them!

Northern Pygmy Owl at the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program
Well, that's the end of the "Owl of the Week" series!  I really hope you learned a lot from it.  Remember to check out the original page to refresh yourself on all the reasons Owls Are Cool, and to find a list of all the owl species in Colorado with links to their profiles on this blog.  As always, remember you can subscribe to this blog by using the little box in the right sidebar; comments and questions below or at my email address ( are always welcome; the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program's official website is a great place to visit; our Facebook page is awesome; and you can follow me on Twitter with the name @RaptorProgram.  And, finally, yet most importantly, if you support the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program and the life-saving work the Humans do for the raptors in the region, please support us by donating here.  Thank you for all you do--we truly wouldn't be here without you!

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