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These little owls live all year long in Kittitas County in mixed woods and partly open areas. They are no larger than the American Robin, but sometimes take prey up to three times their own size. Check out that poor bird the owl in the photo has killed, seen hanging right below the owl’s tail! Unusually for owls, they are often active during daylight hours so you might see them hunting near dawn or dusk. They are quick fliers—darting fast and low from one tree to the next. Aggressive hunters, despite their small size, they are known to catch more birds than other small owls. Sometimes they will ‘store’ food they catch, using the winter as a natural freezer.

Northern Pygmy-Owls have false “eye” markings on the back of their heads that help deter other predators. They are a woodsy brown color, with white speckles on rather large, round heads. Breast feathers are creamy white with soft brown streaks and their eyes and beak are strikingly golden. In flight, the tail is longish and the wings fairly short and rounded. If you’re out for a walk near the woods or along a river in the evening, you might see or hear little groups of chickadees and other songbirds “mobbing” a perching pygmy-owl to chase it away.

Nests are located in cavities like those found in dead tree trunks. The first flight of an owlet will be about a month from hatching. Their diet is typically rodents, birds and large insects. Interestingly, some birds defend territories all year long, not just during breeding. Courtship displays may include rapid aerial chases through the trees.

Due to the climate crisis, Audubon scientists project that over 50% of the pygmy-owl’s habitat will be lost in Washington State and specifically Kittitas County in the coming years. The threats to their habitat include wildfires and spring heat waves which will endanger young birds in the nest.

Go to audubon.org for more information and kittitasaudubon.org for local events and community.

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