Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pygmy Rescue

A loud thump caught Don's attention several mornings ago. This sound usually means a bird has flown into one of the windows so he hustled outside to discover a tiny Northern Pygmy-Owl face down in the snow. Don gathered the little owl up to assess its condition only to be glared at by piercing bright eyes. After five minutes of calm and warmth snuggled into Don's gloved hands the little guy regained its senses and flew off.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl may be tiny (about the size of a bluebird), but it's a ferocious hunter with a taste for songbirds. These owls are mostly dark brown and white with long tails, smoothly rounded heads, and piercing yellow eyes. They hunt during the day by sitting quietly and surprising their prey. As a defensive measure, songbirds often gather to mob sitting owls until they fly away. Mobbing songbirds can help find these unobtrusive owls.

These owls are found in forests ranging from deciduous woods along streams to high-elevation fir and spruce forests at timberline. They also live in cottonwood, aspen, and mixed-conifer forests. In winter, Northern Pygmy-Owls move to lower elevations and may come into towns to hunt songbirds at bird feeders.

Like other cavity nesters, pygmy-owls need standing dead trees as nest sites. Forest management practices that remove dead wood can reduce habitat quality for them. Pygmy-owls rely on other species to excavate holes for them which makes them indirectly dependent on populations of woodpeckers.

Most sources list the Northern Pygmy-Owl as relatively uncommon in Colorado. This is the second time we have seen one on our place. We feel pretty lucky to have enjoyed these special encounters.