Ornithology society names endangered Little Owl “Bird of the Year”

Little Owl, photo: Trebol-a, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Little Owl (Athene noctua, sýček obecný in Czech) has been chosen as Bird of the Year by the Czech Society for Ornithology. Though common in Europe, Northern Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia, population numbers of the owl fallen significantly over the last half century in the Czech Republic, disappearing from farmland areas; as a result the Little Owl is on the endangered list.

Little Owl,  photo: Trebol-a,  CC BY-SA 3.0
The Little Owl is a favourite for birdwatchers and ornithologists and has now been named Bird of the Year. The Czech Society for Ornithology wants to make the public aware of the bird’s plight: that population numbers of the once widespread species dropped dramatically over decades. No one wants the downward spiral to continue and the society is doing what it can to help. Radio Prague spoke to the society’s Martin Šálek:

“We chose the Little Owl because this is an owl which not long ago was very common and widespread. We wanted to reveal the plight of the bird and other animals which live in the vicinity of arable land, where bird and other population levels have dropped.

“At the beginning of the last century the Little Owl was widespread; today it is on the edge of extinction. We wanted people to know about the danger.”

According to Mr Šálek, there used to be tens of thousands of breeding pairs but by the 1970s the numbers had dropped around just 2,000.

“At present the population is tiny: we have counted around 130 nesting pairs. They are limited to small areas of land around the country; whereas 30 years ago the owl was a common sight for our grandparents, now they are only located in isolated areas or “islands” of land primarily in the regions of Ústí, Central Bohemia and South Moravia.”

One question is whether there are steps the public can take to help; the Czech Society for Ornithology’s Martin Šálek points out even simple steps can make a difference.

Little Owl,  photo: Artur Mikołajewski,  CC BY 3.0
“Our Little Owls have retreated from farmland into inhabited areas where they face numerous dangers. We studied where most of the Little Owls died and learned that some 40 percent died in so-called technical ‘traps’. These include barrels of water, or upright pipes that are not capped.

“The owls are curious by nature and go inside to have a look and get stuck and can’t get out. For that reason, it would be good if all small cottage or garden colony owners who have rain barrels remember to but a float inside, so the bird can climb up and escape.

”Another thing each of us can do is to help the Little Owl is leave a patch of uncut grass on our property, so insects like butterflies which are part of the bird’s diet can remain and hide. A well-trimmed English lawn is not beneficial. If you leave 20 percent uncut, that can help.”

Authors: Jan Velinger , Martina Bílá
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