Welcome to Animal Magic – a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular, and less well-known animal residents.
Standing just 22cm tall and weighing in at 180g, little owls are a common bird across much of mainland Europe from where they were introduced to Britain in the 19th Century.
They can now be found throughout England, Wales and the southern parts of Scotland, but due to its mild climate southern England is their stronghold.
They inhabit farmland, parks and orchards, where they can often be seen perched in trees, telegraph poles or fence posts during the day.
When startled they will bob their head, which helps them to assess how far away the threat is.
They are most active at dawn and dusk, when they will hunt for small mammals, beetles and earthworms.
Indigestible parts of their prey, such as bones, fur and beetle wing cases, are regurgitated as a pellet; these can be studied to reveal the owl’s diet.
Surplus food will be stored to see them through the times when hunting is poor.
A particularly successful little owl in Switzerland was found to have stored 95 rodents in one box!
Nests are hidden in holes in trees, cliffs and buildings; they will also happily use nest boxes that have been provided.
Clutches normally contain four eggs which hatch after a month.
The chicks hatch covered in thick white down and spend five weeks in the box before fledging.
As with many owls the young will leave the nest before they can fly properly so they spend their time hidden at the base of the tree waiting for their parents to come and feed them.
Our little owls arrived in 2009 and have nested every year since then.
They share their aviary near the lake with a pair of colourful monal pheasants.
Their diet consists of mice, chicks and insects, such as crickets and mealworms.