Family Typical Owls (Strigidae)

Least Concern

Little Owl (Athene noctua)


French: Chevêche d’Athéna German: Steinkauz Spanish: Mochuelo europeo
Other common names: Ethiopian Little Owl (spilogastra, including somaliensis), Lilith Owlet (lilith), Northern Little Owl (plumipes)

Strix noctua


, 1769,

Krain, Carniola, Slovenia


Probably closest to A. brama. Race lilith, shown in recent studies to differ in DNA and vocal patterns, may be a separate species, and treated as such by one recent author (who claimed sympatric occurrence with A. n. indigena, glaux and bactriana)#R, although not by authors of very recent major checklist#R; paler than other races, less streaked below and with more distinct occipital face, but sympatry rather than intergradation with bactriana unclear#R and vocal evidence not established. Race spilogastra (with somaliensis) recently treated as a separate species on account of smaller size yet longer toes and “zoogeographical aspects” plus the comment that voice “said to differ”#R, but far better evidence required; examination of toes in NHMUK does not suggest significant difference. Likewise, plumipes said to be genetically distinct#R, and has been treated as a separate species#R; further study required. Many races considered probably intermediate populations or reflection of individual variation, while geographical subspecific boundaries obscure, with many intergrading populations: vidalii and indigena intergrade over wide area in NW Russia; nominate noctua intergrades with vidalii over wide area from S France E to Czech and Slovak Republics, and with indigena in former Yugoslavia; indigena and vidalii intergrade in N Ukraine, Belarus and C Russia; lilith intergrades with saharae in Saudi Arabia and with bactriana in Iraq; bactriana intergrades also with ludlowi in W Himalayas (Ladakh). Race saharae sometimes subsumed within glaux. Corsican and Sardinian populations perhaps warrant subspecific status (as sarda), this being supported by DNA data#R. Proposed races kessleri and caucasica synonymous with indigena; solitudinis synonymous with saharae; in Europe, grueni and cantabriensis subsumed within vidalii and salentina and daciae in nominate. Thirteen subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. n. vidalii A. E. Brehm, 1857 – W & N Europe (S Baltic S to Iberia, including Balearic Is) E to NW Russia.
  • A. n. noctua (Scopoli, 1769) – C Europe (from about S Germany) S to Sardinia and Sicily, E to NW Romania#R.
  • A. n. indigena C. L. Brehm, 1855 – Albania, S Serbia, S & E Romania E through S Ukraine to Caucasus and SW Siberia, S to Crete, Turkey (except SE) and the Levant (S to Haifa, in NW Israel).
  • A. n. glaux (Savigny, 1809) – N African coast, and coastal Israel S from Haifa.
  • A. n. saharae (O. Kleinschmidt, 1909) – N & C Sahara (S to Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan) E, discontinuously, into Arabian Peninsula.
  • A. n. spilogastra (Heuglin, 1863) – E Sudan, Eritrea and NE Ethiopia.
  • A. n. somaliensis Reichenow, 1905 – E Ethiopia and Somalia.
  • A. n. lilith E. J. O. Hartert, 1913 – Cyprus, and inland Middle East from SE Turkey S to S Sinai.
  • A. n. bactriana Blyth, 1847 – SE Azerbaijan, E Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan E through C Asia to L Balkhash and S to W Pakistan.
  • A. n. orientalis Severtsov, 1873 – extreme NW China and adjacent Siberia.
  • A. n. impasta Bangs & J. L. Peters, 1928 – NC China (NW Qinghai and SW Gansu).
  • A. n. ludlowi E. C. S. Baker, 1926 – S & E Tibet E to W Sichuan (SC China), and S to N Himalayas.
  • A. n. plumipes Swinhoe, 1870 – S Altai Mts, Mongolia and Transbaikalia E to NE China and Ussuriland.
  • Introduced, just outside natural range, to Britain; also to New Zealand.

    Descriptive notes

    21–23 cm; wingspan 54–58 cm; male c. 162–177 g, female c. 166–206 g (vidalii). Compact, plump and relatively small, with wings broad and... read more


    Male advertising call a mellow hoot, “goooek,” rising sharply in pitch at end, but... read more


    Wide variety of semi-open habitats from steppes and stony semi-desert to farmland and open woodland... read more

    Food and feeding

    Largely small mammals and birds, reptiles, amphibians, beetles, crickets (Orthoptera), earwigs (Dermaptera) and earthworms (Lumbricidae).... read more


    Season Mar–Aug; second broods rare. Monogamous, both socially and genetically, the pair-bond often persisting all year and perhaps... read more


    Essentially resident. Most first-year birds settle within 20 km of natal site, although some... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. Best current (mid 1990s) population estimates for Europe, expressed as number of breeding pairs: Iberia 88,000; Italy and... read more

    Recommended citation

    Holt, D.W., Berkley, R., Deppe, C., Enríquez Rocha, P., Petersen, J.L., Rangel Salazar, J.L., Segars, K.P., Wood, K.L., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Little Owl (Athene noctua). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 5 April 2020).