Northern Pygmy Owl

The Northern Pygmy Owl (Swarthi Owl) is endemic to Vancouver Island. This little Owl has 7 subspecies in North America with 3 of them breeding on the coast of BC. They are very small owls that do not exceed 17 cm in length. The Northern Pygmy Owls are diurnal, this allows them to be seen hunting during the day, although they hunt all day, they prefer to hunt at sunrise and sunset. They use a perch to survey their hunting area and quietly drop onto prey, this is known as a perch and pounce hunting method. Their prey consists of small rodents like voles, shrews, and mice, many types of small songbirds. They will also take reptiles and amphibians.  This owl in the photos seemed quite interested in Annas Hummingbirds.

Northern Pygmy Owl, Vancouver Island, BC
Northern Pygmy Owl, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

Not much is known about these small raptors on Vancouver Island, only a few nests have ever been found. There was a study done in the nimpkish valley during the ’90s, most of what we know has come from this study.

They nest in tree cavities from April to August and have a single clutch per year. They usually lay 7 eggs, and incubation begins after all eggs are laid. The female stays on the nest for 28 days while the male brings her food. She will stay with the hatchlings for 8-10 days, after this, she will begin to help feed the growing chicks alongside her mate. The young birds fledge at around 3 weeks but will stay around the nest for an additional 21 days while the parents continue to feed them while teaching them to hunt.

Northern Pygmy Owl, Vancouver Island, BC
Northern Pygmy Owl, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

The Northern Pygmy Owl breeds in old growth as well as second-growth coniferous forests that have areas of deciduous patches. Nest cavities that have been excavated by Northern Flickers and Hairy Woodpeckers are likely the most useful for pygmy owls. So if you want to find the nests of these owls, study the nesting habits of the 2 birds listed and add to this the known harvesting needs of these owls, and you will have the best chance of locating a nest.

Northern Pygmy Owl, Vancouver Island, BC
Northern Pygmy Owl, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

There was a study done in the Nimpkish Valley during the ’90s, most of what we know about the Vancouver Island Subspecies has come from this study. An interesting sidenote to these birds is based on their hunting times. They hunt during the day and are quite often dive-bombed by other birds. So if you look at the back of their heads, you will see 2 black spots that seem to confuse other birds having them pull up before getting too close.

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