The Little Owl (Athene noctua) is, as its name suggest, the smallest of our breeding owls; weighing in at just 170g. Its small size and secretive nature mean it is often overlooked.

Little Owls prefer to live in open habitats such as farmland and parks and nest in boxes, barns or even just a hole in a roof.

They are actually not native to the UK, being introduced from the continent in the 1870’s. However they have taken well to life here feeding on small mammals and large invertebrates (such as earthworms and beetles). It seems that they have filled a vacant niche with minimal impact on other species.

A pair will raise a single brood each year, usually comprising of three of four chicks. The eggs are laid in April or May. Once breeding commences, the pair will remain very vigilant of their territory; watching any human intruder with great interest.

Birds are vary faithful to their territory. Sometimes using the same nesting site for their whole lives; which is usually 3 years but can be up to 13 years.

After their initial release numbers increased quickly as new areas were colonised and the population expanded. However the species now appears to be declining both nationally and across Europe.

These declines are likely caused by changes in the landscapes the owls call home and decreases in their prey and preferred hunting habitat. They are also susceptible to poisoning from heavy metals and pesticides.

Sadly, in Wiltshire species seems to have declined substantially with birds disappearing from many former haunts. This, as well as the fact the species is under recorded, means that any records of breeding pairs using buildings are especially valuable.