What do you call a tiny little owl that lives up high in the mountains? A Mountain Pygmy Owl of course! This little guy is closely related to the Northern Pygmy Owl.
So close in fact, that until recently these two owls were thought to be the same species; they look alike, they act alike- but they don’t sound alike. People began noticing that somewhere in southern Arizona the Pygmy Owl began to sound different. Instead of the usual series of single notes, the Pygmy Owl’s mountain neighbor belts out a series of double notes to the tune of “tot-too” or “took-took”, with the occasional single note interspersed into the song. Is a different song enough to make a different species? Most scientists say that it is, though others disagree.
The two Pygmy Owls also have different habitat preferences. While the Northern Pygmy Owl makes its home in dense coniferous forest and at forest edges, the Mountain Pygmy Owl likes these habitats too, but up in the mountains of course! Northern Pygmies are usually found at elevations above 1,500 meters.
You may just get to see for yourself, for this is one owl that can be seen hunting most anytime of day or night, but especially near dawn and dusk. These tiny owls usually make their homes near forest edges and will often venture into a neighborhood looking for a songbird snack. Northern Pygmy-Owls aren’t particularly shy of humans, so keep your eyes peeled and you just might see one in your own neighborhood!
Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.