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Northern Pygmy-Owl, Dusty Veideman
Photo © Dusty Veideman

Photo: Dusty Veideman
Breeding evidence - Northern Pygmy-Owl
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Northern Pygmy-Owl
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Northern Pygmy-Owl
Elevation plot

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Northern Pygmy-Owl
Glaucidium gnoma
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
0 - 1479 m
Conserv. status:
BCRISC: Blue (swarthi subspecies)
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
12 52 196 21
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -1.39 (-5.56 - 3.29)Low
Canada1973 - 2012 -1.52 (-5.93 - 2.92)Low

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
 0.0 0.050.04 0.07
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
   0.00.09 0.1
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.010.07 0.05  0.05

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
 0.0 0.1
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
0.06 0.01 
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce
0.03  0.08

Characteristics and Range Its diminutive size and diurnal habitats make the Northern Pygmy-Owl unique among the owl fauna of British Columbia. Despite its size, it is a fierce predator on birds and small mammals, often taking prey larger than itself. It is easily recognized by its round owl face, small size and relatively long tail. A pair of spots on the back of the head mimics large eyes, perhaps leading other birds to think that it is keeping an eye on them even when looking away. A calling pygmy-owl will often attract a large, agitated flock of small birds; this mobbing effect has led to the practice of many birders to whistle like a pygmy-owl while in a quiet forest, thus bringing out many chickadees, nuthatches and other small birds that might have otherwise gone unseen. The Northern Pygmy-Owl is resident in the western cordilleras of North America from southeastern Alaska and northwestern British Columbia south to Central America. There is no evidence of latitudinal migration but individuals often descend to valley bottoms in winter.

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Northern Pygmy-Owls are found throughout the forests of British Columbia, except absent from Haida Gwaii and the Taiga Plains. The overall distribution is very similar to that reported by The Birds of British Columbia in 1990. The cluster of reports on northern Vancouver Island comes from targeted surveys, and may account for the higher Probability of Observation there. The data are too sparse to reveal details of altitudinal or habitat preferences; the species is found in all forest types within its British Columbia range, but generally prefers more open forests (Holt and Peterson 2000). Population density is almost surely lower in the northern half of the province. The lack of records from valley bottoms in the Lower Mainland is probably a result of forest clearing and urbanization in that area.

Pygmy-owls feed on a wide variety of small prey, especially small rodents and songbirds, and nest in tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers (Campbell et al. 1990, Holt and Peterson 2000).

Conservation and Recommendations The Blue-listed subspecies G. g. swarthi is endemic to Vancouver Island. Breeding Bird Survey results suggest that Northern Pygmy-Owl populations have declined in Canada since 1973, but data are few, so there is low confidence in this trend calculation. Logging practices that remove snags from the landscape can exclude pygmy-owls from those areas because of the owls' need for woodpecker cavities for nesting (Holt and Peterson 2000).

Richard J. Cannings

Recommended citation: Cannings, R.J. 2015. Northern Pygmy-Owl in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [28 May 2024]

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