|Population||4,960,000-9,360,000 (2012 est.)|
|Conservation status||Least concern|
The little owl is small, about 8.7 inches in length, a wingspan of 22 inches, and weighs in at 6.3 ounces. It is greyish-brown to dark brown in color, with a generally lighter-colored belly. The coloration is broken up by whitish spots above, and tan to brown streaks on the chest and belly. The wings and tail are banded whitish and dark brown. The facial disk is slight, with light mottling over a grayish-brown background, and is bordered by prominent light-colored eyebrows; the eyes themselves are light to sulphur-yellow. The head is somewhat flattened, and bears no ear tufts. Legs are relatively long, and feathered in pale white to the toes.
The species is found in temperate to desert areas over much of Eurasia south to northern and eastern Africa and the Middle East, with populations introduced to Great Britain and New Zealand by man in an effort to control the rodent population. Thirteen subspecies are recognized.
- Athene noctua bactriana; Azerbaijan to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan (Lake Balkhash area)
- Athene noctua glaux; northern Africa and coastal Israel (north to Haifa)
- Athene noctua impasta; west-central China (Kokonor and western Gansu)
- Athene noctua indigena; eastern Europe (Balkan Mountains) to Turkey, southern Russia, Transcaucasia and southwestern Siberia
- Athene noctua lilith; Cyprus; Middle East from southeastern Turkey to southern Sinai Peninsula
- Athene noctua ludlowi; south-central China and Tibet to northern Himalaya Mountains
- Athene noctua noctua; Sardinia, Corsica, Italy, northwestern Balkans, southeastern Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania
- Athene noctua orientalis; Extreme northwest China and adjacent Siberia
- Athene noctua plumipes; northeastern China, Mongolia and far-eastern Russia (Primorsky Krai)
- Athene noctua saharae; Morocco to Tunisia south of Atlas Mountains, Libya coast, western Egypt, Arabian Peninsula
- Athene noctua somaliensis; eastern Ethiopia and Somalia
- Athene noctua spilogastra; Red Sea coast of eastern Sudan and northern Ethiopia
- Athene noctua vidalii; Europe: northwestern Russia, Poland, and southern Baltic to Spain and Balearic Islands,
Little owls feed primarily on insects, but will take small rodents, reptiles, earthworms and other invertebrates. They are perch hunters, swooping down on prey after movement has been detected. During the breeding season birds and frogs are an important food source.
The little owl is monogamous and territorial, with a courtship beginning as early as February by the male who makes his calls at or near a potential nesting site. The breeding season is March to August. The breeding pair nests in tree cavities as well as man-made nesting boxes; they will also use cavities within buildings. The clutch consists of three to six eggs laid at two-day intervals each, which are incubated up to 28 days. The chicks fledge after 35 days, are able to fly within 46 days, and are independent at 2 to 3 months. If food is abundant a second clutch of eggs is sometimes laid.
The ICUN classifies this bird as "least concern" due to the large population size throughout Eurasia. There is some concern that severe winters combined with alterations to its habitat can cause declines in numbers; in fact it was shown to have declined in range within Europe. Factors considered have been blamed on the following:
- Industrialized farming, resulting in a loss of prey animals such as voles, insects, and earthworms.
- Increased agriculture practices, including removal of trees used for cover and nesting.
- Use of pesticides and other farming chemicals.
- Automobile-related deaths due to nests placed near roadways.
Owls figure prominently in the cultures and myths of people worldwide, and Greece was no exception, with the little owl portrayed as the companion of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the patron of Athens. Owls were often depicted on coins such as tetradrachmas, with the coins sometimes being informally referred to then as now as "owls". These birds were important for the Athenians, who passed laws protecting the birds and encouraged flocks to live on the Acropolis. Owls seen flying over troops in battle were seen as a sign of victory, as during the victory of Agathocles over Carthage or during the battle of Salamis.