By Craig Churchill
True to its name, the Little Owl Athene noctua is the UK’s smallest resident owl. It is also the owl that you are most likely to spot during daylight hours.
Although the Little Owl is now widespread in England and Wales, it is not in fact a native species. It was introduced from continental Europe by enthusiastic ornithologists in the 1920s, to the consternation of gamekeepers, who were worried that it would prey on pheasant and partridge chicks.
Subsequent studies demonstrated that these fears were groundless. In fact the Little Owl’s diet consists principally of insects, earthworms, mice, voles and shrews, although it is a plucky hunter and has occasionally been known to tackle birds bigger than itself – wood pigeons and moorhens, for example – and mammals as large as rabbits. The Little Owl can often be seen sitting on branches, fence posts or walls. It has a striking – and to our eyes amusing – habit of bobbing its head energetically when it spots something of interest. The purpose of this head movement is to help the bird to judge distances. Little Owls nest in holes in trees or buildings. Breeding starts in mid-April, and both adults are involved in feeding the brood of two or three chicks. Unfortunately, just a century since their introduction, the UK’s population of Little Owls appears to be in decline, presumably due in turn to the decreasing numbers of invertebrates and small mammals on which they feed.
Craig Churchill’s interest in photography began at the age of eleven when his naturalist father gave him an SLR camera. For the last thirteen years Craig has worked as a professional photographer, specialising in studies of British wildlife. The numerous awards he has won since then include the ‘Wild Britain’ category of Outdoor Photographer of the Year and the ‘Creative Digital’ section of the International Wildbird Photographer Awards. You can enjoy more of Craig’s beautiful animal portraits at craigchurchill.co.uk