Birds of Nakusp: Pygmy Owl

At this time of year, I often get phone calls from residents who report seeing a small owl in a tree.

Gary Davidson

Arrow Lakes News

At this time of year, I often get phone calls from residents who report seeing a small owl in a tree. Most often these sightings are Northern Pygmy-Owls. Very few of these tiny predators breed in the valley, but most years, a few move in for the winter. Occasionally one of the reports turns out to be a Northern Saw-whet Owl instead. Although this owl is actually more common than the pygmy-owl, it is much less often reported. The Northern Saw-whet is almost exclusively nocturnal, spending most of their day sleeping, usually deep within the branches of a large tree. Northern Pygmy-Owls, however, are frequently active during the day.

Despite being one of the smallest owls in North America, the Northern Pygmy-Owl has the reputation of being a bold and aggressive hunter. For its size it may well be the fiercest avian predator in the woods. About the size of a robin, the Northern Pygmy-Owl has been known to take mammals as large as rats, and birds as large as flickers. A flicker is 30-35 centimetres in length; a Northern Pygmy-Owl a mere 15-20 centimetres! More usual prey items would include small birds, small mammals and large insects. The ability to take moving targets, such as birds, is not common amongst owls. Most rely on stealth, and a silent approach, and must strike their quarry before being detected. Northern Pygmy-Owls, however, have enough agility to change direction in flight and capture small birds as they fly from a perch. Tail feathers, acting much like a rudder, are instrumental in changing the direction of flight. The Northern Pygmy-Owl is one of only two B.C. owl species to have tail feathers that extend beyond the wing tips. All other species have very short tail feathers greatly limiting their abilities to zig and zag in response to movements of their intended meal. The Northern Saw-whet Owl has the characteristic short tail of most owls and probably would not have much luck with flying targets. But since they are nocturnal, they don’t encounter many small birds anyway.

Like most predators, Northern Pygmy-Owls will recognize that certain locations are frequented by prey more often than others. These locations may then be “staked out.” Back yards that have bird feeders sometimes become prime hunting spots. A couple of years ago my wife was standing at the living room window watching a Downy Woodpecker on the suet feeder. As she watched, a Pygmy-Owl streaked in and hit the woodpecker with outstretched talons. It dropped to the snow below, where it rested for a moment before flying off with its meal. Does this mean that back yard feeders are putting small bird populations at risk? Not necessarily; the owl is going to eat anyway. While you may be making it a bit easier for him, it is unlikely he will eat more as a result. In fact, it has been suggested that he may actually eat less! Food is energy; the more energy expended, the more food required. By making prey easier to obtain, less energy is expended in obtaining that food, and therefore, less food is required!

 

Just Posted

Andrew Bellerby out as RDCK’s regional fire chief

Bellerby held the job since January 2016

Craft cannabis development planned for Castlegar

Plans are underway for one of the first craft cannabis industrial parks in the province.

Annual Columbia Basin Culture tour coming up Aug 10 and 11

There are locations across the region participating

Abra Brynne wins Kootenay-Columbia Green Party nomination

Brynne is one of three candidates who will challenge MP Wayne Stetski

Police call Appledale death a homicide

But few other details being released

Rents in most Canadian cities are unaffordable for lower-income earners: study

Roughly one-third of households, or 4.7 million, are renters

B.C. government seeks advice on reviving Interior forest industry

Public website opens as meetings start with community leaders

Psychics, drones being used to search for missing Chilliwack woman with dementia

Drones, psychics, dogs and more have been employed to help find Grace Baranyk, 86

Kootenay Anglican bishops, priests grapple with same-sex marriage vote

After same-sex marriage amendment rejection, priests, bishops voice discontent

Feds issue battery technology challenge at energy conference in Cranbrook

Provincial and territorial energy and mines ministers talk policy, challenges at annual meeting

‘Benzos’ and fentanyl a deadly cocktail causing a growing concern on B.C. streets

Overdoses caused by benzodiazepines can’t be reversed with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone

B.C. mom to go to Europe court in hopes of getting alleged abducted daughter back

Tasha Brown alleges her estranged wife abducted their daughter Kaydance Etchells in 2016

Scheer on Trump: It’s ‘offensive’ to question the family background of critics

Trump is being called a racist for saying that the four congresswomen should go back where they came from

Instagram expands Canadian pilot removing ‘like’ counts to more countries

Social media giant plans to roll out the test in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Italy and Ireland

Most Read