Skip Navigation

Little owl (Athene noctua)

Living up to its name, the little owl is just over 20cm in height and is the smallest owl found in the UK.

Common name: little owl

Scientific name: Athene noctua

Family: Strigidae (owls)


Head: is a pretty mottled mix of brown and cream. The little owl has piercing yellow eyes

Wings: are rounded and long, spanning 56cm and move with rapid wingbeats. Like the head the wings are mottled brown and cream in colour. 

Body: is also mottled with brown and cream colouring. The bird is small, standing at only 20cm in height and has a short tail.

Where to spot

The little owl can be spotted in small copses, on parkland, around farms and in orchards and open woodland.  You might see it in the early morning or at dusk perching on a pole or a branch, hunting for its food.


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


The little owl is monogamous, finding a partner and breeding 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.


  • The little owl was introduced into the UK in the nineteenth century
  • Its name Athene noctua derives from its dedication to Pallas Athene, Greek goddess of wisdom.
  • Has a typical lifespan of three years.
  • It bobs its head up and down when it is alarmed.