The little owl is much the smallest owl to be found in Britain: it weighs a third as much as a tawny owl
There are, however, much smaller owls to be found in Europe. Both the scops owl and the pygmy owl are considerably lighter and daintier.
It is not a native to Britain, though it occurs naturally right up to the French coast of the English Channel.
It was successfully introduced to Britain by two landowners: Col. E.G.B.Meade-Waldo at Stonewall Park, near Edenbridge in Kent (in 1874), and the 4th Lord Lilford at Lilford Hall, Oundle in Northamptonshire from 1889.
So successful was Lord Lilford’s introduction that for a while the birds were known in England as Lilford’s owl.
Lord Lilford collected the birds he released in England from Holland, liberating a number of birds over several years.
By about 1925 the little owl’s range extended as far north as Lancashire and Yorkshire.
The bird’s successful colonisation of England and Wales is explained by the fact that there was an empty niche in our countryside for a largely insectivorous small bird of prey.
Holes in trees are the favoured nest sites, but nest boxes are adopted readily.
The clutch of between two and five white eggs is generally laid in late March or early April, with incubation taking 7-28 days.
Though the young are not fully fledged until about 35 days, they often leave the nest some days earlier, perching on nearby branches.
Most young birds disperse in the autumn, usually settling within 20km of their birthplace.
Adults are sedentary, remaining in their territory throughout the year. The pairs maintain a life-long bond.
Like most owls, they are noisy birds, with a wide variety of calls, and they can often be heard during the day.
Though most active between dawn and dusk, they can often be seen about during the day, often in full daylight, though they seldom hunt in the day.
The undulating flight on short, rounded wings is highly distinctive and unlike any of our other owls.
Though insects and small rodents form the bulk of their food, they do take a wide variety of prey, including roosting small birds and even amphibians.
Much of their hunting is done on foot, with the birds running actively to capture their prey.
They were first introduced to New Zealand in 1906, and soon became established on South Island, where they can still be found today.
In Greek mythology, the little owl was the bird sacred to Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom.
The connection to Greek mythology is celebrated in the bird’s Latin name, Athene noctua.