Friday, February 9, 2018

Little But Not Often

Some news from Europe about the Little Owl, Athene noctua, sýček obecný, recently chosen by the Czech Society for Ornithology as their “Bird of the Year”. 

Though common in Europe, Northern Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia, population numbers of the owl fell significantly over the last half century in the Czech Republic, as birds disappeared from farmland areas; as a result the Little Owl is on their endangered list. 

The Czech Society for Ornithology wants to make the public aware of the bird’s plight and that population numbers of the once widespread species fell dramatically over recent decades. 

Little Owl

The society’s Martin Šálek: “We chose the Little Owl because this is an owl which not long ago was very common and widespread. We wanted to reveal the plight of the bird and other animals which live in the vicinity of arable land, where bird and other population levels have dropped. 

“At the beginning of the last century the Little Owl was widespread; today it is on the edge of extinction. We wanted people to know about the danger.” 

Little Owl

According to Mr Šálek, there used to be tens of thousands of breeding pairs but by the 1970s the numbers had dropped around just 2,000. 

“At present the population is tiny: we have counted around 130 nesting pairs. They are limited to small areas of land around the country; whereas 30 years ago the owl was a common sight for our grandparents, now they are only located in isolated areas or “islands” of land primarily in the regions of Ústí, Central Bohemia and South Moravia.” 

One question is whether there are steps the public can take to help; the Czech Society for Ornithology’s Martin Šálek points out even simple steps can make a difference. “Our Little Owls have retreated from farmland into inhabited areas where they face numerous dangers. We studied where most of the Little Owls died and learned that some 40 percent died in so-called technical ‘traps’. These include barrels of water, or upright pipes that are not capped. 

“The owls are curious by nature and go inside to have a look and get stuck and can’t get out. For that reason, it would be good if all small cottage or garden colony owners who have rain barrels remember to but a float inside, so the bird can climb up and escape.Another thing each of us can do is to help the Little Owl is leave a patch of uncut grass on our property, so insects like butterflies which are part of the bird’s diet can remain and hide. A well-trimmed English lawn is not beneficial. If you leave 20 percent uncut, that can help.” 

Little Owl

This account from Czechoslovakia mirrors the story of the UK population of Little Owls. The BTO’s Common Bird Census/Breeding Bird Surveys trend for Little Owl in the UK shows very wide variation, but a downturn in recent decades suggests that a rapid decline lies behind the observed fluctuations. 

A figure of c. 7,000 pairs from the BTO/Hawk & Owl Trust's Project Barn Owl (Toms et al. 2000) was the first replicable population estimate for Little Owls in the UK. An independent BBS estimate is for c5,700 pairs in 2009, since when a substantial further decrease has occurred. 

Little Owl

The primary drivers for this rapid decline are thought to be decreased juvenile survival and the effects of agricultural intensification. 
Little Owl - British Trust for Ornithology

My own observations over the past 35 years in this part of Lancashire have seen the once very, very common Little Owl become something of a scarcity.  Once regular sites are now abandoned with few localities where the species may be found on a regular basis. 

The Little Owl is now so scarce, so infrequent that it is something of target bird for listers, twitchers and toggers at all times of the year. Where breeding localities are known by fieldworkers concerned for the species’ welfare, the locale has to be kept hush-hush so as not to subject the birds to constant and often unsympathetic attention. 

Little Owls

I understand that the BTO are looking to undertake a new national survey of the Little Owl quite soon. The way things look at the moment this could lead to the Little Owl being identified as at least Red-listed, if not endangered. Let’s hope not. 


34 comments:

Charlie Bowman said...

Interesting, but very sad. I cannot remember the last time I saw a Little Owl Over Wyre, although the lack of protection afforded trees in this era of rampant house building must be having a devastating effect on all our owls.

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Had no idea the Little Owl is at risk. I doubt there are any near where I live but I'll put a float in the water butt just in case.

David Gascoigne said...

Good evening Phil: One of the things I noticed about Little Owls when I saw them on my recent visit to Croatia was they were not infrequently close to human habitation so I am wondering if this is a species that would take readily to nest boxes. Perhaps with a helping hand from friendly humans it could rebound at least somewhat. It certainly is an endearing little bird.

Stuart Price said...

I used to see them on the Ribble back in the 80's but haven't seen any since..........

Phil Slade said...

You are correct David. The Little Owl is associated with human habitation but the provision of nest boxes may not help much as there are nooks and crannies in many farm type buildings where a tiny owl may nest. If anyhing a nest box increases competion from e.g Stock Dove, Kestrel, even Tawny Owl and Jackdaws. The major problem is once again, changes to the owls' environment where their prey is becoming harder to find.

eileeninmd said...

Hello Phil, Your Little Owls are so cute. It is sad to hear their numbers are on the decline. It would be great if the public is more aware of their plight and can help these cute birds. It is smart to keep their location a secret so the owl is not disturbed. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend.

Lea said...

A very pretty owl. So sorry to hear they are in decline
Have a great week-end!

Schotzy said...

Love, love love the Little Owl... Oh, may they not decline, but flourish!

Linda aka Crafty Gardener said...

What a cute little owl, hope something can be done to make sure the species survive.

Gale said...

My son said "they almost look like old people." Thought you might enjoy that.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

That makes us all feel a little sad realizing the dangers these precious birds have. They are just beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

sandyland said...

whata shame if that were to happen..The lapwing is a truly fascinating bird .

Jean @sonotorganized.com said...

Enjoyed the photos of the little owl but the idea of them being endangered is really sad.

A Colorful World said...

I loved learning about this wonderful bird! How awful that it is so scarce, and perhaps endangered. I hope they will make a come-back. Getting the word out like you do has to help! Beautiful photos of this sweet bird!

Angie said...

How precious they are .... I hope the education efforts pay off.

Anni said...

Oh!! I pray they will survive and thrive once again. Reading about extinction just breaks my heart. We humans need to wisen up and help!!

For linking in at I'd Rather B Birding, all of us birders are very appreciative...thanks!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I hope the survey finds a lot of them .. but if it doesn't, then it is a good thing for the owl to be listed, isn't it? That last picture is heart-stoppingly adorable! We'll be out looking for 'our' burrowing owls soon -- they are really fun to find and look (and I think act) a great deal like these.

Betty Crow said...

Beautiful little owls. I especially like the last photo. It is sad to think they might be endangered,

Stewart M said...

Wonderful little birds - but when predators start to decline you know the ecosystem is in strife.

I agree with your comment about the oystercatchers - I've seen a number of different species - black and white, and all black - and I wonder how different they are.


Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

Lydia C. Lee said...

The little owls are so cute!

Sharon said...

Interesting post on the Little Owl. I hope the problem with them disappearing can turn around. I love the shot of the babies especially.

Fun60 said...

Sad to hear of their decline. Hope something can be done to increase their numbers.

Valerie said...

What sweet looking creatures. Thank you for sharing. (Will need to return later to read all your text about them)

NC Sue said...

I love owls - these are adorable. I hope they are able to rebound and thrive.
Thanks for linking up at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2018/02/more-from-nasher-art-museum.html

Cathy Keller said...

They are handsome little owls. Hate to hear they are in decline. Wishing them and you well!

Kay L. Davies said...

Oh, Phil, of course you know I'm going to get all gushy and weepy and gooey about a bird I've never seen. That would be your fault, you realize...your photos make them look SO wonderful, especially the photo of two handsful of youngsters.
I hope you and Sue are having better weather than we are. It has been so cold here that the dog doesn't want to go outside for more than a minute...30 seconds if she can.
Hugs from the depths of Alberta,
Kay
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Felicia said...

They are sooooo beautiful. sad they are endangered. they look a bit like what we call screech owls here in the US.

mick said...

Very interesting and great photos - especially that one with the little birds perched on the hands- very cute! Such a pity that so many of our modern practices are so detrimental to the wildlife around us.

Russell Jenkins said...

Sorry. Long time since I visited you, Phil. Glad I did. The Little Owl is really beautiful. I hope it's plight will get better. I'm sure it will with your beautiful post. It's important to share our understanding of their behaviour.

Ronja Ryövärintytär said...

Suloiset kuvat <3

Terveiset Suomesta - Ronja

https://valokuvauksellinenpaivakirja.blogspot.fi/

Kelleyn Rothaermel said...

Great pictures! We have an owl that lives behind our house. I can hear him at night. I have never seen him though. He is pretty good and hiding.

Breathtaking said...

Hello Phil!:) This is such sad news. I hope your post will go some way to arousing the awareness of their plight.I was concerned when I didn't see the Little Owl in the Algarve, towards the end of last year. We were there for two and a half months but although I looked every day in the places I had seen it before, there was no sign of it. The Little Owl is such a darling little Owl, and your photos are so endearing. Lets hope something can be done to improve their habitat.

Wally Jones said...

Thank you, Phil, for another informative post! I wish the Czechs (and British and all the rest of us) success in restoring some balance to the planetary eco-systems we have so short-sightedly wrecked.

The data you provide are quite disheartening for the Little Owl.

As Sallie alluded to in a previous comment, our North American cousin, the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is similar but has developed the habit of nesting underground. It normally uses an abandoned burrow of some other animal (in Florida, the gopher tortoise provides a large breeding cavity; in the western U.S. and Canada, prairie dogs and gophers help out).

Population trends for the Burrowing Owl are not as critical as the Little Owl, but it is in trouble in many local spots across the continent. And for mostly the same reasons as in Europe.

On that cheery note, I hope you have been well! We have just returned from an extensive trip to Texas and New Mexico. Almost completed processing over 4,000 images and may soon share a few. (No worries - shall not make you sit through them all!)

Cheers!

Molly said...

That is so sad

Mollyx

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