little owl

In ancient Greek mythology, the little owl, Athene noctua, was the bird favored by Athena, the virgin goddess of arts, crafts and war. Owl–eyed Athena was known for her wisdom, and was often portrayed with an owl head, or a helmet with an owl symbol on it. Since the owl was favored by the goddess, it was protected and inhabited the Acropolis in great numbers. As the symbol of Athene, the owl was a protector, accompanying Greek armies to war, and providing ornamental inspiration for their daily lives. If an owl flew over Greek soldiers before a battle, they took it as a sign of victory. It also looked after trade and commerce and appeared on Athenian coins.

The little owl was introduced into New Zealand from Germany by the Otago Acclimatisation Society between 1906 and 1910 and is now widespread in farmland and towns in Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago and Southland. They live in hedgerows and clumps of trees, haysheds and other farm buildings. Although introduced to control small birds that had become orchard pests, their diet consists mainly of insects, spiders and earthworms, together with a few small birds, frogs, lizards, mice and rabbits. They may be seen by day as well as by night.

little owl
Sub Species:

Song of:  —  little owl

 McPherson Natural History Unit

Other common names:  — 

German owl.

Description:  — 

Introduced bird

23 cm., 180 g., grey-brown, white spots and streaks, flatter head and shorter tail than morepork.

Where to find:  — 

Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, Otago Southland, Wairarapa.

Poetry:  — 

The Owl and the Pussy-cat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up at the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl,'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long have we tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

 —  Edward Lear

Illustration description: — 


Albin, Eleazar, Natural History of Birds, 1731-38.

Gould, John, Birds of Great Britain, 1862-73.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Page date & version: — 


Tuesday, 17 September 2019; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.