The natural range of the little owl (Athene noctua) is Europe, North Africa and Asia. Also known as German owls, they were introduced to Britain in the 1870s. Between 1906 and 1910, about 300 little owls were released in Otago and Canterbury.
In the early 2000s little owls were mainly in the south, east and north of the South Island, and appeared to be spreading in Golden Bay. There were small isolated populations in Westland and Fiordland.
The little owl weighs about 180 grams, slightly heavier than the native morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae). But its length – about 23 centimetres – is less, because it has a shorter tail.
Diet and behaviour
Little owls were introduced with the aim of reducing the population of small introduced birds, which had become pests on farms. There were concerns that they might damage native bird populations, but their diet turned out to be mainly invertebrates – and occasionally small birds, frogs, lizards and mice. They often walk or run about, feeding on the ground.
Little owls nest in holes in trees, earth banks, rabbit burrows and buildings. They are not strictly nocturnal – they often appear during the day and sometimes sun themselves.