The Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) is tiny indeed no bigger than a good-sized-sparrow. It has two distinctive features: a long tail, which is often cocked up at an angle, and two black blotches, or “eyes,” on the back of its neck. The species nests in tree holes, usually in evergreen forests. It is brown above with white-edged black spots on nape; white below with dark streaks.
The tail is long, barred with white. The Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi) of the Southwest is even tinier and very short-tailed. Another small species, the Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus), is found across North America. It gets its name from its raspy call, like a saw being sharpened; unlike most owls, it is seldom heard at night.
The diurnal nature and poorly developed facial disks indicate that they depend mostly on sight when hunting. The Northern Pygmy-Owl hunts mostly during twilight hours for insects, small birds and lizards, sometimes taking prey as big as itself. Small birds react violently to a pygmy’s presence, and the owl itself can react. Other hidden birds may also appear.
A pair of pygmies occupies a large territory and will chase away any intruder of their own kind. Adults attend broods for 9 to 30 days (females) and 31 to 34 days (males) post-fledging, after which they were not associating with their young. Young remain within the natal territory for 1 to 10 days following the departure of adult males, after which they disperse throughout the area. Early hatched young also migrate earlier than late hatched young, suggesting that more dominant young migrate first.