Hurik is a northern pygmy owl (Glaucidium gnoma) that was brought to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in October of 2014. He had a left elbow dislocation and some swelling at the left wrist. During the first night Hurik was at the hospital he chewed at his left wrist and caused enough damage that his wing needed to be amputated. Thankfully, his wing could be amputated at the elbow as amputations any closer to the shoulder have proven to be too detrimental to balance for many birds and are thereby not humane. Hurik has adapted very well to life without that part of his wing, and once the site healed he began on his training as an educational bird. Hurik’s name means small fire in Armenian and was chosen for him because even though northern pygmy owls are small, they can be very ferocious predators.
Facts about the northern pygmy owl
Hunting & diet:
Northern pygmy owls are diurnal, meaning they hunt during the day. Their diet varies greatly with location and season and can include rodents, birds, insects, and lizards. Rodents, such as voles and mice, and songbirds, such as waxwings and chickadees, are often major prey. However, during warm weather, these owls eat many large insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, and beetles. In southern parts of their range, northern pygmy owls may catch more lizards. When they find extra food, they often cache their prey in tree cavities or by hanging it on thorns, as shrikes are famous for doing.
Because songbirds can make up to a third of their diet, it is common to find small birds (such as hummingbirds, wrens, warblers, jays, and blackbirds) mobbing these owls. By following a noisy commotion of songbirds focused on one location, you may be able to spot these otherwise elusive owls in the wild.
Unlike other raptors, owls have no crop for food storage. They often swallow their food whole or in large chunks, and it goes directly to their stomach. In the stomach, a pellet (or cast) is formed from the fur, bones, and other indigestible material. The pellet is then regurgitated 10 or more hours later. Because owls do not have a high enough stomach acidity to digest bones, larger owl pellets can easily be dissected to find the skeletons of their most recent prey.
Wings: Owls have several characteristics that can be used to differentiate them from other raptors. For example, the leading edge of their flight feathers is serrated like a bread knife. This breaks up air turbulence and allows them to fly completely silently. This makes it so the owls’ prey doesn’t hear them coming and so the sound of their wings doesn’t interfere with the owls’ hearing.
Mating & nests:
Northern pygmy owls are monogamous, at least within one year’s breeding season. Males attract females to their nest site by perching at the entrance and giving a tooting call. Both parents take part in providing food for young, with the male bringing much of the prey and female feeding it to the young. Pygmy owls nest in cavities in trees, either in a natural hollow or in abandoned woodpecker holes.
The main predators of northern pygmy owls are larger owls and raptors and some mammals, such as weasels. Northern pygmy owls can raise a pair of tufts on the sides of their head, called plumicorns, when threatened by a predator, such as a hawk or a cat. They also have a pair of spots on the back of their neck that look a little like eyes. Scientists believe these markings may help fool attackers or mobbers into thinking the owl is watching them.