Northern Pygmy Owl

This gallery contains 4 photos. The one bird I especially hoped to see over the BC Family Day 2016 long weekend was one I almost missed — and then the crowd of birders and photographers we happened upon alerted us to the presence of this diminutive raptor, roosting in the bright early afternoon sunshine. I have no idea if this was a female or male (female raptors are almost always bigger than the males, and darker). Although solitary by nature, as many as four Northern Pygmy Owls were sighted in this area during the winter.

Northern Pygmy Owl6 inches of cute in one deceptively ferocious package (taken from 50 feet away)
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 200 

This NOPO was constantly swiveling its head like a submarine periscope: left, center, right, straight ahead, and down. The Northern Pygmy Owl, a diurnal (daytime) hunter, does not actively seek prey, but sits and waits patiently for it to show up, and then goes after it.

what I initially thought was interest in us was actually viligance about its surroundings
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 200 

Those puzzling cobra-like false eye spots on the back of its head for which it is (in)famous for? (talk about having eyes on the back of your head). Groups of small songbirds (the NOPO’s primary diet) mob NOPOs (think strength in numbers) to drive the predator away (think strength in numbers); those false eye spots make prey think twice about approaching.

I did a double take at those false eye spots the first time I saw the NOPO face *away* from us!
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 250 

We witnessed one such dive (I attended a raptor seminar a few years ago, and learned that owl feathers and wings have evolved for virtually silent flight, so that prey cannot hear the wingbeats of approaching predators).

prey has just been spotted on the ground below its perch. this was taken just before its dive down.
f/7.1, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 250


52 thoughts on “Northern Pygmy Owl

  1. I love owls. They are so hard to photograph since they are mostly active at night. I have had sightings of them in the day, but I never seem to have my camera! These are beautiful shots. You really got its personality. I didn’t realized about the black spots on the backs of their heads. We have pygmys around here, and Great Horned, Flamulated, sometimes Spotted Owls and infrequently I hear the barking of of a short eared owl in late winter.

    I always love your pictures, and thanks for adding the lens and camera info!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thank you, Mary! most owls are nocturnal creatures, but the NOPO is a day hunter. I thought it was sleeping on the branch until I realized that it was actually waiting for prey to show up!

      the only times I can see Great Horned Owls are during the day, and they’re usually sleeping it away high up in a coniferous tree — their faces well hidden. ditto for Northern Saw Whet Owls. 😦

      unfortunately, we don’t get Flammulated Owls, and I’ve yet to see a Spotted Owl, but I have had the pleasure of seeing Short-Eared Owls hunt (they’re also daytime hunters, with territories that overlap those of Northern Harriers).


  2. I got my first owl photo about two months ago which I posted on my Goat Lake post. I think it was a barred owl and the head seemed to swivel as well. Scary in a way to see one as they stare in a confrontational manner and have been known to attack. Of course it was equally exciting. I could just have easily have missed it as they sit motionless in trees waiting. I knew that head shape immediately though and stopped in my tracks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a similar incident on the road — something flew extremely close to the car windshield at night, and it was probably an owl. thankfully, no injuries were inflicted. I was amazed at the close encounter.


  3. Awesome sight, good for you! Well captured 🙂 I find it so hard to see owls, I haven’t yet seen one in the wild. What was the prey and did you see it capture and eat it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • usually when I spot owls, they’re usually sleeping and/or well camouflaged high up in the tree (Great Horned Owl, Saw Whet Owl, Barred Owl).

      unfortunately, the brush was so deep that it did a great job of camouflaging the prey from human eyes!

      the NOPO was quietly tracking its quarry for quite a while, and I only saw it dive, and then it was on a fallen log for at least a minute (so I assume it must have caught and eaten the prey). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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