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Northern Pygmy-Owl


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Northern Pygmy-Owl Photo

The Northern Pygmy-Owl may be tiny, but it’s a ferocious hunter with a taste for songbirds. These owls are mostly dark brown and white, with long tails, smoothly rounded heads, and piercing yellow eyes. They hunt during the day by sitting quietly and surprising their prey. As a defensive measure, songbirds often gather to mob sitting owls until they fly away. Mobbing songbirds can help you find these unobtrusive owls, as can listening for their call, a high-pitched series of toots.


  • Song
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Song is a series of high, hollow toots spaced 1-2 seconds apart. Males and females sometimes duet, singing simultaneously.


  • Fledgling begging calls
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The call is a rapid, high-pitched, short trill that often precedes the song.

Other Sounds

These birds snap their bill when confronted by potential predators.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Unlike screech-owls and Northern Saw-whet Owls, Northern Pygmy-Owls are not known to take up residence in human-made nest boxes.

Find This Bird

Northern Pygmy-Owls are widespread in the mountains of western North America, and they’re active during the day, which gives you a good chance of finding them. But they’re also small and unobtrusive as they sit and wait for prey to approach them, so you’ll need to be observant. The two best ways to find them involve your ears: you may hear them giving high, evenly spaced tooting calls. Or you may hear a commotion of chickadees and other small birds scolding and calling as they mob an owl they’ve discovered. Try to find the agitated birds and you may find the owl that they’re trying to drive away.

You Might Also Like

Naturalist’s Notebook: Northern Pygmy-Owl Brings Out The Birds, Living Bird, Autumn 2014.

Raptors and Rat Poison, Living Bird, Summer 2015.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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