The Little Owl in Britain

Little Owls are amazing birds. They’re only eight inches tall, yet they ooze so much personality. Their quirky behaviours are utterly charming and a sheer joy to watch. Many people are surprised to learn that this much loved owl is not native. Landowners successfully introduced the Little Owl into England during the 1880s; these were brought over from mainland Europe to control ‘garden pests’. After its initial and rapid spread across England and Wales, the Little Owl started to decline from the late 1930s. More recently, this decline has accelerated, with numbers down by 64% in 25 years.

The Little Owl has declined across parts of its native range too, and is a Species of European Conservation Concern. This decline has been linked with agricultural intensification, urbanisation, traffic collisions, predation by mammals and raptors, and low juvenile survival rates. We’re unsure why the Little Owl is declining here, but it’s likely to be for a combination of reasons.

In 2008, I began a PhD on the breeding ecology of the Little Owl. I decided to focus on this species because its ecology had infrequently been studied here. In 2010 and 2011, I installed cameras into occupied nest boxes to study its breeding season diet. These cameras were generously funded via The Aspira Fund – a joint initiative between Andy Rouse and Páramo – along with RFID data logger kits. This equipment recorded prey deliveries to Little Owl nests, collected data on nest-site attendance, and helped me to compare different methods for studying Little Owl diet in nest sites.

Emily conducting her Little Owl field work.

Emily conducting her Little Owl field work.

Emily checking a Little Owl nestbox.

Emily checking a Little Owl nestbox.

Since completing my PhD, I’ve continued to monitor raptor and owl nests, worked with county bird groups to help them to set up monitoring projects, supervised student projects on owls, presented talks to bird groups and at the International Little Owl Symposium, continued my work on Little Owl breeding ecology, and in 2015, launched the UK Little Owl Project with the kind support of Andy Rouse and Keith Fielding. This project raises awareness of the Little Owl’s decline, encourages more people to participate in long-term monitoring schemes (e.g. British Trust for Ornithology’s Nest Record Scheme), and it shares the latest research and conservation news for this owl via my website’s blog. Learn more about the UK Little Owl Project here and please follow @UKLittleOwls.

Emily Joáchim ringing a Tawny Owl chick.

Emily Joáchim ringing a Tawny Owl chick.

I spend a lot of time carrying out field work and I’ve been wearing a Páramo Halcon Jacket for the past five years. The pockets are fantastic for carrying ‘just in case’ equipment into the field. I use the hand warming pockets all year round. I like the jacket’s Nikwax Analogy® fabric which is quiet, breathable, durable, doesn’t restrict movement, and is very waterproof, even during heavy summer downpours.

The vital equipment for accessing Little Owl nest boxes!

The vital equipment for accessing Little Owl nest boxes!

This season, I’ve been field testing a Páramo Ladies’ Torres Jacket – the colour and fit are fantastic, the fabric is quiet and lightweight, and it’s easy to wash – you get quite messy ringing owls! It keeps me warm during cold, windy and wet weather, which can occur all seasons. The fabric doesn’t restrict movement either, which is vital when climbing ladders and trees. Another reason why I enjoy wearing Páramo is because they’re the first UK outdoor clothing company to have signed up to the Greenpeace Detox commitment – this means their clothes are free from toxic per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) – brilliant news!

Emily Joáchim, UK Little Owl Project

 

Award-winning photographer Andy Rouse has been working with Emily Joáchim on Little Owls for many years now. © Andy Rouse.

Award-winning photographer Andy Rouse has been working with Emily Joáchim on Little Owls for many years now. © Andy Rouse.

  1. Peter Bean
    September 29, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    1) Have seen frequently lone Little Owl in deralict plum orchard behind our house . 2) Caught a pair or two youngsters in the road august evening . Stopped with them in the road , they popped onto an adjacent farm gate and looked cute . Not surprised cars are a hazard . they were in no hurry to move.

  2. Emily Joachim
    October 7, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Dear Peter,

    Wonderful news to hear that you have a Little Owl living in an old plum orchard near your house. Must be lovely to see a Little Owl so often. Did you see the two young near the same orchard? My email is emily@littleowlproject.uk – I’d love to hear more about your sightings. Kind regards, Emily

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