The Little Owl
 Morris's British Birds 1891
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Little Owl
Image Title: Little Owl
Description: Little Owl (Athene noctua)

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Strix passerina, LiNNAEus. LATHAM. Strix nudipes, NILLSON. JARDINE.
Strix dasypus, MEYER. Noctua passerina, JENYNS. SELBY.
Noctua nudipes, GOULD.
Strix—Some species of Owl. Passerina. Passer—A Sparrow.

'This,' says Wilson, 'is one of the least of the whole genus, but, like many other little folks, makes up in neatness of general form and appearance for deficiency of size, and is, perhaps, the most shapely of all our Owls.'
The Little Owl is common in Europe, in France, Eussia, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, and the Levant; and in the northern parts of North America, according to Wilson, but his description seems to me to be utterly inapplicable to the bird before us. In Asia, in Siberia, and Crimea.
Two were taken in chimneys many years ago, in the parish of Lambeth. One was seen in Wiltshire, nailed up against a barn door, and probably many another has adorned the 'gamekeeper's museum.' Three are recorded to have been met with in Devonshire; one in Worcestershire; one in Flintshire; one near Bristol; a pair bred near Norwich, and two other specimens have been authenticated in Norfolk. One was shot at Widdrington, in Northumberland, in January, 1812. One, said to have been shot in an orchard at Sheffield Park, near Fletching, was on sale in July, 1842, in the Brighton market: it was believed from the light colour of its plumage to be a young bird. One was caught near Derby, which lived a long time in captivity, becoming so far tame as to know those who fed it: it used to drink much. Others have been observed in Yorkshire, Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Westmoreland, Middlesex, and Cambridgeshire. Two others were met with in the- parish of Melbourne, in the same county; and one in Herefordshire, in 1838, now in the collection of Mr. Chaffey. In Cornwall, one near Helston. Another at Gloddaeth, near Llandudno. Some of these, it need not be doubted, have escaped from captivity, or have been purposely introduced.
In Ireland it has not hitherto so far been known to have occurred.
The Little Owl resorts to the vicinity of human dwellings, and finds a retreat in the crannies of old walls and roofs, churches and towers, as also in rocks and the umbrageous recesses of pine and other forests, woods, and plantations. It is principally nocturnal in its habits, but takes wing and feeds occasionally in the day-time in dull weather, and even in sunshine sometimes, as well as in the twilight. It flies well, though its wings are not very long, but with an up-and-down motion, like that of a woodpecker. If taken young there is no difficulty in rearing and taming it, and it is much used on the continent as a decoy for entrapping small birds: it has bred in confinement. 'That small birds,' says Bishop Stanley, 'generally speaking, have great dislike to Owls, is clear, from the uproar that takes place if an unfortunate Owl is disturbed in the day-time, and compelled to appear in broad day-light, pursued, as it is sure to be, by a host of them, who persecute it by every means in their power. And we may therefore conclude, that they either take it for their real enemy, the Hawk, or that it does, now and then, when it can, feast upon any one of them which may, by accident, fall into its clutches. Of this antipathy, the bird-catchers in Italy know how to take advantage.' They are found alone or in pairs, not in companies, and are pursued themselves by hawks, rooks, magpies, and jays. During the breeding season they fly about, and chatter even in the day time.
It feeds on mice, as also on swallows and other small birds, which it sometimes catches on the roost, bats, frogs, beetles, moths, caterpillars, and insects generally. According to Bewick, it is said to pluck the birds before it eats them.
The note resembles the syllables 'keu, keu, keewit,' or 'koowit,' and when perched, 'pooh, pooh,' its voice being more drawn out in the breeding season. It is the opinion of one author that the harsh and dissonant cry of the Owls is for the purpose of alarming their prey, and giving them opportunity to get out of the way to prevent their too great destruction. This is most surely a baseless theory, and one which runs counter to the whole course of nature. I think I may venture to assert that no peculiar faculty is given to any living creature for the immediate benefit of any other kind but its own—for that of any other individual but itself. Mr. Mudie, with rather more show of reason, suggests on the exact contrary, that the object is to alarm the prey sought, and so frighten them out of their coverts into the way of their pursuers, but this too is mere conjecture. One may almost wonder that it has occurred to no ' savan,' to suppose that the sole purport may have been to give different authors an opportunity of promulging each the separate notions of his own imagination on the subject.
Like the rest of the Owls this one breeds early in the spring.
The nest, so far as one is made, is built in chimneys, and other parts of buildings; in pine and other trees, about half-way up: as also in osier beds, and rabbit holes.
The eggs are from two to five in number, and white. The male takes his turn in sitting on them. They are said by Mr. Hewitson to vary in size and shape. The young are hatched in fourteen or fifteen days.
Male; weight, four ounces; length, eight inches and a half to nine and a half; bill, yellowish grey, edged and tipped with yellowish— very short, strong, much hooked, and surrounded at the base with bristly feathers; cere, dull yellow or greenish yellow; the feathers at its base are bristly at the tips, partially black on the shafts; iris, pale yellow—a streak of black extends from it to the bill; the eye is surrounded with yellowish white. Head, greyish brown, spotted with rufous white, with a central streak of the same on the crown; the ruff incomplete and inconspicuous, the feathers being a little more curved than the rest: the face is greyish white, passing into brown at the outer side of the eye; neck, brown, spotted behind and on the side with large white spots forming a collar, and with a large patch of the same in front; nape, brown, spotted with white; chin, white; underneath it is a semicircle of yellowish brown, with darker bars; throat, banded with white, curving upward towards the ears; breast, yellowish or greyish white tinged with rufous, with brown streaks and spots, longer on the upper part and smaller lower down, forming bars on the middle of it; back, greyish brown, spotted with two white spots, and edged with buff on most of the feathers.
The wings expand to the width of one foot eight or nine inches, and extend three quarters of an inch beyond the end of the tail. Greater and lesser wing coverts, greyish brown, the feathers with one white spot partly hid by the brown of the superincumbent feather, which together form lines of white, besides other smaller spots, the shafts being dusky. Primaries, brown, spotted with white or yellowish brown on the outer webs—in some specimens on each web; those on the inner, which are lighter, are larger, and together they form bars which partly shew through; the third is the longest, the fourth nearly as long, the second a very little longer than the fifth, the first shorter than the sixth, and the shortest in the wing. Secondaries, brown, barred with white, shaded at the edges of the bars into reddish brown; tertiaries, greyish brown, spotted with two white spots and edged with buff on most of the feathers; greater and lesser under wing coverts, white with a few brown spots. Tail, brownish grey, with four, five, or six bars of rounded yellowish white or pale brown spots, and whitish at the tip: it is nearly even, and consists of twelve broad rounded feathers: beneath, it is dull greyish brown, faintly barred with yellowish brown; tail coverts, greyish brown, spotted with white and edged with buff on most of the feathers; under tail coverts, unspotted; legs, rather long, greyish yellow, feathered with short hairy yellowish white feathers, tinged with rufous, with a few dusky spots; toes, greyish yellow, slightly covered with bristly feathers on the upper surface; underneath they are rough; claws, yellowish brown, dusky or black at the tips, strong and not much curved.
The female resembles the male, but is larger and rather paler in colour. Length, ten to eleven inches; the wings expand to the width of one foot ten inches or over.
In the young bird the head is rufous grey, clouded with white; the large round spots on the back, and the bars on the tail become gradually more marked than in the old birds, and the streaks on the breast appear. In age the birds become lighter coloured.

"You might have heard a pebble fall,
A beetle hum, a cricket sing,
An Owlet flap his boding wing
On Giles's steeple tall."

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