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Friday 19th December, 2014

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UK First Breeding - European Pygmy Owl

European Pymy Owl
Image courtesy Terry Evison

Hot on the heels of our first UK breeding of the Oriental Bay Owl Phodilus badius at our World Owl Centre in 2005, and the first ever captive-breeding of the Philippine Eagle Owl Bubo philippensis philippensis (also in 2005 and again in 2006) at the Negros Forests & Ecological Foundation’s Biodiversity Conservation Centre (NFEFI-BCC) we support on the island of Negros, we have hot news that we might have done it again – with another UK ‘first’!

This time the breeding success involves what many owl keepers not only regard as one of the most difficult species of owl to breed, but also to actually care for – the tiny, but for its size, ferocious, European Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum passerinum. Why is it considered difficult? For the simple reason that the females have a pre-disposition to murder their spouses if the mood takes them! Very frustrating, especially when it is almost impossible to get a replacement! Like many small species of owl, they are comparatively short lived (6 – 7 years in the wild, but sometimes longer in captivity) so are of little interest to the commercial boys. Hence it is left to the likes of us – the afficionados/masochists who really care about them and want to learn how best to cater for their needs so that we can help them with a conservation-breeding programme if one becomes necessary.

To be honest, we too have had our ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ in our attempts to breed this vivacious little owl over the years and I’ll tell you more about this next time, along with details of our breeding of the Bay Owl. In the meantime, congratulations are due to Collection Manager David Armitage and his team for this momentous success – with special thanks to Keeper Trystan Williams who was the first to notice the parents taking food into the nest box on 27 May. Having checked out the box in mid-June (it’s a case of ‘leaving well alone’ when Pygmy Owls lay eggs) we were initially disappointed to find four apparently infertile eggs with no sign of any youngsters. However, this aviary is dominated by a dense evergreen Chamaecyparis tree to give the birds the privacy they need to feel relaxed, and even finding the sparrow-sized adults can be difficult at times! Imagine our delight therefore, on 20 June, to suddenly spot a single well feathered owlet sitting out on an exposed perch, as bold as brass, begging for food from its parents! What a marvellous moment, and one I’ve personally waited for, for more years than I care to admit to! Well done team.

Tony Warburton

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