Quick facts

Common name: little owl

Scientific name: Athene noctua

Family: Strigidae (owls)

Habitat: woodland, grassland, towns

Diet: small mammals, smaller birds, invertebrates

Predators: larger raptors

Origin: non-native

What do little owls look like?

The little owl has piercing yellow eyes and mottled brown and cream colouring across its head and body. The wings are rounded and move with rapid wingbeats.

The bird lives up to its name, standing at only 20cm in height, and has a short tail. It’s also the smallest owl in the UK.

Credit: Tony Cox / WTML

What do little owls eat?

It eats mostly small mammals and birds but will also feed on large invertebrates, such as beetles, crickets and worms. It hunts at dawn and dusk, observing the ground from its perch for movement. Once the little owl spots its prey, it swoops, grabbing its meal in its claws or beak.

Did you know?

The little owl bobs its head up and down when it is alarmed.

How do little owls breed?

The little owl is monogamous, often staying with the same partner for life. It is ready to breed when it reaches one year of age. It nests in small holes in trees or sometimes, surprisingly, disused rabbit burrows. The young are raised between May and July from two to five eggs.

Credit: Survivalphotos / Alamy Stock Photo

Where do little owls live?

The little owl makes its home in small copses, on parkland, around farms and in orchards and open woodland. It is found across England and parts of Wales but is absent from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Did you know?

The whole UK population is thought to originate from introductions on large estates in Kent and Northampton.

Signs and spotting tips

Little owls can be active during the day. Look for them particularly in the early morning or at dusk, perched on poles or fence posts. Listen for their strange mewing call or the male’s ‘hoo-eet’ song on summer evenings.

Little owl call

Audio: Patrik Aberg / xeno-canto.org

Credit: Colin Varndell / naturepl.com

Threats and conservation

The UK's little-owl population is in decline, having fallen by 18% since 1995. While it is unclear why the species is declining, some suggest it may be due to more intensive farming methods.

Did you know?

In Greek mythology, the little owl is connected to Athena as well as her Roman counterpart, Minerva.


How to identify UK owl calls

Charlotte Varela  •  21 Dec 2023

Heard a screech in the night or a hoot in the woods? One of the UK's five resident owl species could be at large. Learn how to identify owl calls, from tawny owl to barn owl.

Read the blog