This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the northern pygmy owl.
The northern pygmy owl is a resident of montane forests, scrub forests and riparian woodlands from central America to British Columbia. With only about 80,000 of them distributed across their range, they are considered uncommon and are rarely seen.
These fierce, sparrow-sized raptors feed mostly in the daytime hours on several species of insects, songbirds, small mammals and other vertebrates, including prey that may be several times their own size. In the event that a prey item cannot be consumed in one feeding, the owl may “hang” the remaining food material on a twig or thorn, in a manner similar to behavior exhibited by the northern shrike.
The picture included with this article was taken the day of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in December 2020. This bird appeared as a small fluff of feathers perched in an oak tree, but sometimes they are spotted because of other songbirds ganging up and harassing the unwelcome predator.
Pygmy owls build their nests in cavities excavated in living trees or dead snags by woodpeckers or caused by fungal rot. Males locate a potential nest cavity, then attract females to the site. The females lay two to seven eggs and incubate them while the males bring food items to the nest site.
Because they are widely dispersed, there is much left unknown about their life cycle.
The availability of suitable nest cavities is critical to their population numbers. Forest management practices that reduce the number of nesting trees, or threaten the populations of woodpecker species responsible for excavating nest cavities, are the major factors affecting the distribution and abundance of the pygmy owl.
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