The Little Owl is a distinctive, boldly spotted small owl that is found widely throughout Europe, with the exception of northernmost countries. Little Owls were introduced into parts of Britain towards the end of the 19th century. They spread to colonize most of England and Wales, but they are rather sedentary and are still largely absent from Scotland. In Britain its favoured habitats include parkland, farmland and gardens in rural, suburban or urban areas.
Little Owls can be encountered at almost any time, being generally more active in daylight hours than other owls. The prime times are, however, dawn and dusk, as would be expected.
The general shape of a Little Owl is that of a small, squat, broad-headed bird with a short tail. The plumage is the same for both sexes.
When seen from the side, the Little Owl shows a very broad, dusky white supercilium which extends from the base of the bill to the back of the nape. Another white stripe extends from below the bill upwards over the rear cheek to join with the supercilium. The rest of the upperparts are chocolate-brown in colour, boldly spotted and streaked with white. The short square tail is barred brown and white. The underparts from throat to rear belly are brown with bold white marks. The undertail is white.
When seen head-on, the striking, fierce, bright yellow eyes of the Little Owl appear particularly obvious, while the white stripes around the head give the bird an almost ‘grumpy’ look. The small hooked bill is dull flesh-coloured and the legs are feathered white with dull grey ‘toes’ and black talons.
In flight, the rounded wings of the Little Owl are obvious. They have a fast undulating flight, a little reminiscent of Mistle Thrush or woodpeckers, and can often be encountered flying between telegraph poles. They are capable of easy movement on the ground when searching for food.
As the sun sets, Little Owls become very active. Listen out for the feline-like ‘kee-uw’ call or, during the breeding season, a variety of canine-like yelps and even barks. They will often call from old buildings, chimney pots or their beloved telegraph poles.
Juvenile Little Owls show vaguely similar plumage patterns to adults, although the face pattern in particular is a little more subdued, while the overall plumage appears less contrasty and has a ‘downy look’ to it. The white splodges are less well defined, particularly on the head and upperparts, while the underparts appear more streaked than spotted.