Whether you’re hiking during the day or camping at night in Patagonia, chances are you might see (or hear) a Patagonian Pygmy owl along the way. Unlike other owls, they are not strictly nocturnal, frequently emerging from their nests during the day. But you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled to see them: these owls are small, weighing only a quarter pound or less, making them one of Earth’s smallest owls. With their grey and brown coloring, they camouflage easily with the Patagonian steppe grasslands.
The Patagonian Pygmy Owl generally flies low and over long distances, alternating between rapid wingbeats and gliding. The owl then swoops up to perch and, quite often, to sing. In fact, these birds are quite prolific singers. When a Pygmy owl arrives in a new area, it imitates the song of local birds. When the birds hear this playback, they gather around the newcomer. Thus, it is not uncommon to see a Pygmy owl during the day, mobbed by such birds as the thorn-tailed rayadito, the white-crested elaenia, as well as other native Patagonian finches, wrens, and sparrows.
He might be social, but this owl is also clever. Some of the smaller birds around will likely become his prey, as well as insects and other small mammals. A grown female grows to be considerably bigger than the males: almost all females weigh more than males. The females are also exclusively in charge of incubating their eggs, which they lay in a carefully chosen nest, most often on the inside of a tree trunk, but sometimes in another animal’s abandoned burrowing hole. In late November, the mother lays about three to five eggs at a time roughly every two days. After the last egg is laid, incubation lasts for almost a month. Then, when the fledglings are born, they remain in the nest for another month but still require care for yet another month after that before becoming independent.
Locally, the Patagonian Pygmy owl is not rare. But in more developed areas, these birds have become threatened by development – agriculture and industrial alike. Another reason to protect the wildlands of Patagonia.