Little Owls: Subspecies, Ranges and ID

Owl Information ... Index of Owl Species ... Photos of Various Owl Species for Identification

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - Tarragona,
Catalonia, Spain

Overview ... Alternate (Global) Names ... Distribution / Habitat ... Subspecies, Ranges and ID (below)

Description ... Calls / Vocalizations ... Lifespan, Longevity and Predation ... Breeding / Nesting ... Diet / Feeding


Between 10 - 13 races are currently recognized. They differ in size - the smallest owls occurring in northeast Africa and the largest in Asia. The color of the plumage range from various shades of grey-brown, rufous-brown to yellowish-brown.

  • Little Owl (Athene noctua noctua - Scopoli, 1769) - Nominate Form
    • Range: Central Europe, from South Germany to Sardinia and Sicily, and east to Romania.
    • ID: White-speckled brown above and brown-streaked white below.
    • Subspecies:
      • [Athene noctua sarda] - Usually considered invalid
        [Athene noctua daciae] - Usually considered invalid
        [Athene noctua salentina] - Usually considered invalid

  • [North African Little Owl (Athene noctua glaux or Athene lilith glaux - Savigny, 1809)]
    • Range: Northern Africa, and coastal Israel south from Haifa in northern Israel.
    • Recent findings place this race as subspecies of the Lilith Owl (Athene [noctua] lilith).

  • Bactrian Little Owl, Hutton's Owlet, Hutton's Little Owl (Athene noctua bactriana - Blyth, 1847)
    • Range: Southeastern Azerbaijan, eastern Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan east through central Asia to the Balkhash Lake.
    • Range overlaps with race or ssp. lilith in Iraq.

  • South-east European Little Owl (Athene noctua indigena or Athene lilith indigena - C. L. Brehm, 1855)
    • Range: Albania, southeastern Yugoslavia, southern and eastern Romania, southern Ukraine, south Russia, Caucasus and southwestern Siberia, south to Crete, Turkey (except southeastern parts) and Middle East south to Haifa in northern Israel.
    • Range overlaps with ssp. vidalii over wide area in northwestern Russia, central Russia, northern Ukraine and Belarus; and with nominate form noctua in former Yugoslavia.
    • Recent findings place this race as subspecies of the Lilith Owl (Athene [noctua] lilith).

  • North Western Little Owl (Athene noctua vidalii - A. E. Brehm, 1857)
    • Range: Western and northern Europe, from the southern Baltic Sea to Iberia, including Balearic Island) and east to northwestern Russia.
    • Range overlaps with ssp. indigena over wide area in northwestern Russia, central Russia, northern Ukraine and Belarus; and nominate form noctua over a wide area from southern France east to Czech and Slovak Republics
    • Subspecies:
      • [Athene noctua grueni] - usually considered invalid
      • [Athene noctua cantabriensis] - usually considered invalid

  • East African Barred Owlet, Red Sea Little Owl (Athene noctua spilogastra - Heuglin, 1869)
    • Range: Eastern Sudan and northern Ethiopia.

  • Little Owl (Athene noctua plumipes - Swinhoe, 1870)
    • Range: Northeast China, Mongolia and Ussuriland.

  • Little Owl (Athene noctua orientalis - Severetzov, 1873
    • Range: Extreme northwestern China and adjacent Siberia.

  • Somali Little Owl (Athene noctua somaliensis - Reichenow, 1905)
    • Range: Eastern Ethiopia and Somalia.

  • Saharan Little Owl (Athene noctua saharae - Kleinschmidt, 1909)
    • Range: Northern and central Sahara Desert south to the African countries of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan, and east discontinuously into Arabian Peninsula.
    • Range overlaps with race or ssp. lilith in Saudi Arabia
      • [Athene noctua solitudinis] - usually considered invalid / believed to be synonymous with saharae (one and the same).

  • [Athene noctua desertae] - Proposed race
    • Range: North Africa
    • ID: Paler plumage

  • [Lilith Owl, Hartert's Little Owl, Levant Little Owl or Syrian Little Owl (Athene noctua lilith or Athene lilith - Hartert, 1913)]
    • Latest findings place the Lilith Owl as a full species with races glaux and indigena as subspecies.
    • Range: Island of Cyprus and inland Middle East from southeastern Turkey south to southern Sinai.
    • Range overlaps with ssp. saharae in Saudi Arabia and with ssp. bactriana in Iraq.
    • ID: Pale grey-brown plumage.

  • Little Owl (Athene noctua ludlowi - Stuart Baker, 1926)
    • Range: South central China and southern and eastern Tibet, south to northern Himalayas.

  • Little Owl (Athene noctua impasta - Bangs and J. L. Peters, 1928)
    • Range: Found in the provinces of Qinghai and Gansu (western parts) located in the northwest of the People's Republic of China.

Species Research by Sibylle Johnson


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