Justification of Red List category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 618,000-1,170,000 pairs, which equates to 1,240,000-2,340,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms c.25% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 4,960,000-9,360,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed. The population is therefore placed in the band 5,000,000-9,999,999 mature individuals.
The population is suspected to be stable in the absence of evidence for any declines or substantial threats. The European population is estimated to be stable (BirdLife International 2015).
The species is found in a variety of semi-open habitats, ranging from parkland, orchards and cultivated fields with hedges to rocky, semi-desert regions and steppes (Mikkola 1983) and extends from boreal to tropical areas. It is monogamous and breeds from March to August. The nest is built in a cavity and the hole is cleaned and scraped but will also use nest boxes. Clutches are usually three to six eggs (Holt et al. 2014). It feeds on insects, small rodents and plant matter. Birds and frogs are an important food source during the nesting season (Mikkola 1983). The species is sedentary although large displacements do occur (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997).
Population levels can suffer marked decreases after severe winters. Its range has contracted locally in many parts of Europe, which is thought to be mainly due to habitat changes, including the loss of suitable nest-sites and, less often, the use of pesticides. Industrialised farming practices have resulted in a reduction of prey items such as voles and earthworms. Agricultural intensification, ground clearance, excessive use of toxic chemicals and road traffic deaths all contribute to declines as well (Holt et al. 2014). The loss of nest holes from the felling of old hollow trees and the restoration of old buildings is also likely to affect the species (Tucker and Heath 1994).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Bern Convention Appendix II. The species is listed as ‘endangered’ on the Dutch national Red List (Hustings et al. 2004). The provision of nest boxes and pollarding of old nesting trees has been successful in Belgium and Germany at offsetting declines (Holt et al. 2014).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Measures should address conservation at the wider countryside scale. The preservation of the species’s habitat, including old trees and hedges, as well as the reduction in the use of pesticides are important. Organochloride pesticides should be replaced with less aggressive products or biological pest control methods. The provision of nest boxes should continue. The maintenance of perches near roads (2 m high, 10–15 m apart and 5 m from the road), is advisable to help reduce car-collisions. Further research into habitat requirements, population size and trends and threats is required (Tucker and Heath 1994).
Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Ashpole, J
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Athene noctua. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/little-owl-athene-noctua on 05/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 05/12/2023.