• Barn Owl
    Barn
  • Barred Owl
    Barred
  • Boreal Owl
    Boreal
  • Burrowing Owl
    Burrowing
  • Eastern Screech Owl
    Eastern Screech
  • Elf Owl
    Elf
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
    Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
    Flammulated
  • Great Grey Owl
    Great Grey
  • Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned
  • Long Eared Owl
    Long-Eared
  • Northern Hawk Owl
    Northern Hawk
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
    Northern Pygmy
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
    Northern Saw-whet
  • Short-eared Owl
    Short-Eared
  • Snowy Owl
    Snowy
  • Spotted Owl
    Spotted
  • Western Screech Owl
    Western Screech
  • Western Screech Owl
    Whiskered Screech Owl

NORTHERN PYGMY OWL (Glaucidium californicum)

Northern Pygmy OwlThe word “pygmy” means small, and that certainly describes the Northern Pygmy-Owl! Standing just 16-18 centimeters tall, this tiny owl is one of the smallest in North America. But the Pygmy-Owl doesn’t let size stand in its way; this fierce little owl frequently preys on birds and mammals larger than itself.  You might see a Pygmy-Owl being harassed by a mob of angry songbirds.  Pygmy-owls are also well known for their feather markings.  These owls literally have “eyes on the back of their heads”, or so it seems. Though Northern Pygmy-Owls actually have bright yellow eyes in front, the backs of their heads are feathered with a pair of quite convincing “eye spots”. Though these markings are really just variations in feather coloring, researchers believe that they confuse both predators and songbirds that might mob them.  What do you think?

You may just get to see for yourself, for this is one owl that can be seen hunting most anytime of day or night, but especially near dawn and dusk.  These tiny owls usually make their homes near forest edges and will often venture into a neighborhood looking for a songbird snack. Northern Pygmy-Owls aren’t particularly shy of humans, so keep your eyes peeled and you just might see one in your own neighborhood!

Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  • A plump little owl with short wings and long tail; yellow eyes, yellowish- white beak, dark, white-ringed “false eyes” on back of head

    Males: grayish-brown with fine white spotting

    Females: tend to be slightly darker than males

    Young: spotting on head, dark beak
  • Females tend to be slightly larger than males

    Height: Males 16-18 cm (6.3-7.1 in), Females 16-18 cm (6.3-7.1 in)

    Weight: Males 62g (2.2 oz), Females 72g (2.5 oz)

    Wingspan Both: 38cm (15.0 in)

  • Range: western North America, from southeastern Alaska and British Columbia south to California, Arizona, and northern Mexico

    Habitat: mostly coniferous and deciduous forest edges

  • Main foods taken include small to medium sized birds, such as waxwings and chickadees; small mammals, such as mice, voles and shrews; sometimes insects, such as beetles and moths; occasionally small reptiles and amphibians
  • Primary song is a series of evenly spaced high pitched “toots”, but a variety of trills, twitters, and chirps can be heard, especially near nest. 

  • Nest Site: cavity nester; usually nests in old woodpecker holes in mature and second growth forests

    Eggs: 2-7 eggs, laid asynchronously

    Incubation: 28 days
  • Mostly diurnal; perch and pounce technique; switches tail from side to side like a cat while focusing on prey, then will zig-zag from branch to branch before dropping straight down on prey

Northern Pygmy Owl Range Map

Northern Pygmy Owl Range Map

Northern Pygmy Owl Audio

Northern Pygmy Owl Facts

Other Names: California Pygmy Owl, Mountain Pygmy Owl
Family: Strigidae
Closest Relative: Cape Pygmy Owl

Conservation Status

Not globally threatened, though apparently declining in many places in western North America.

Research

Learn more about ORI's research on this species.