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Eurasian Pygmy Owl - BirdForum Opus

Photo by Rob
Silvakra, Sweden, January 2000
Glaucidium passerinum


Length: Males 15-17cm; females 17-19cm
Wingspan: 32-39 cm
Weight: Males 47-65g; females 55-80g
The smallest European owl, smaller than a Starling. Mainly dark rufous to greyish-brown above, with whitish spots; breast streaked brown and off-white, with mottled brown flanks; marked white half collar around nape; tail brown to grey-brown, with five narrow, off-white bars; round head, no ear tufts; face whitish with brown streaks; eyes yellow; bill yellowish; legs and toes are feathered.


Photo by Rob
Silvakra, Sweden, January 2000

The subspecies orientale has paler upperparts with purer white and more sharply defined spots. Also the breast and flanks are more strongly marked brown.


Boreal forests of Scandinavia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, northwest and central Russia across to Siberia, including Sakhalin and some parts of northeastern China. Also occurring in mountains of central and eastern Europe, particularly in the Alps (France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Slovenia), the Carpathian Mountains (Slovakia, Romania) and the Erzgebirge (Germany, Czech Republic). An isolated small population is found in the Lüneburger Heide in northern Germany.

Adults are generally resident, but sometimes move to lower altitudes (south) in severe winters. Immatures roam about in autumn and winter, and have been seen as far from the breeding range as the Netherlands. However, it does not cross the sea readily, with no records from Britain.

Photo by Bobby65
Leksand, Sweden, June 1998


The Eurasian Pygmy Owl is sometimes considered to form a superspecies with the Collared Owlet, the Pearl-spotted Owlet, the Northern Pygmy Owl and the Mountain Pygmy Owl. However, recent DNA evidence denies a close relation to the Northern Pygmy Owl of North America.


Two subspecies are recognised[1][2]:

  • G. p. passerinum:
  • G. p. orientale:
  • Central and eastern Siberia to Sakhalin and northeastern China (Manchuria).

They intergrade in western Siberia and the Altai Mountains.

First described by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758.


Mainly coniferous forest, particularly of spruce Picea, in the boreal zone and corresponding montane coniferous and mixed forest in higher mountains. Prefers semi-open mature forest with clearings. Nest sites are usually found in moist or swampy areas, near a water source and with groups of younger spruces nearby.


Often perches at the top of trees. Crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk; night vision not as good as many other owls, but they also hunt in daylight hours and can be seen sometimes in the middle of the day.


Eurasian Pygmy Owls hunt for small mammals, especially voles, and small birds. They rely on surprise, sitting on a perch and waiting for their prey. They hunt tits and finches, but also woodpeckers and thrushes.


Breeding season is from April to July. Eurasian Pygmy Owls nest in natural holes or holes excavated by woodpeckers. They also accept nestboxes. Usually 4 to 7 eggs are laid which are incubated by the female while the male is hunting. The incubation takes about 30 days and after another 30 days the young are fledged. They're fed for another month by their parents before they are chased out of the parents' territory.


Recording by Andrew Whitehouse, Tartu, Estonia, April 2011


  1. Gill, F and D Donsker (Eds). 2014. IOC World Bird Names (version 4.4). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/.
  2. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, B.L. Sullivan, C. L. Wood, and D. Roberson. 2013. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.8., with updates to August 2013. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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