The Athene Noctua, commonly known as the Little Owl, is a captivating creature that has found a home in the diverse landscapes of Cyprus. This bird, also known as the owl of Athena or owl of Minerva, is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge in various cultures.

Appearance

The Little Owl, or Athene Noctua, is a charming bird with a distinct appearance. It is relatively small in size, measuring approximately 22 cm in length. Its plumage is cryptically colored, providing an excellent camouflage against the backdrop of its natural habitat. The bird’s upper parts are mottled with white spots, while its underparts are streaked with white. Its facial disc is plain and pale with radiant yellow eyes that stand out against its muted colors.

The Little Owl’s short tail and broad wings contribute to its distinctive silhouette when in flight. This unique appearance, coupled with its nocturnal lifestyle, adds to the allure and mystery of this fascinating creature.

A Little Owl at our farm in October 2023

Distribution

The Little Owl, Athene Noctua, boasts a wide distribution across several continents. It is native to Eurasia and North Africa, and has been introduced to England, the South Island of New Zealand, and the southwestern Cape Province of South Africa. In Europe, it is widespread in the Mediterranean region and is also found in parts of Scandinavia, Russia, and Asia Minor.

The bird’s adaptability allows it to inhabit a variety of environments, from farmland and woodland fringes to steppes and semi-deserts. In Cyprus, it has established a significant presence, nesting among rocks and in stone walls, away from human activities.

©by Andy Morffew

Conservation Status

The Little Owl is a common species with a wide range and large total population. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed its conservation status as “least concern. In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 618,000-1,170,000 pairs, which equates to 1,240,000-2,340,000 mature individuals. (BirdLife International)

Diet and Nutrition

The diet of the Little Owl is quite varied, reflecting its adaptability to different environments. It primarily feeds on a range of invertebrates, including insects and earthworms. Small vertebrates, such as rodents and small birds, also form part of its diet.

This nocturnal hunter uses its keen eyesight and hearing to locate and capture prey. The nutritional intake from its diverse diet supports the owl’s energy needs for hunting, reproduction, and maintaining its overall health. This dietary flexibility is a key factor in the Little Owl’s wide distribution and successful adaptation to various habitats.

©by Andy Morffew

Farm Helpers

Little Owls can be beneficial to farms due to their diet. They feed on various pests that can be harmful to crops and livestock. For instance, they consume insects, earthworms, and small rodents, many of which are considered pests in agricultural settings.

By controlling the population of these pests, Little Owls can help to reduce crop damage and maintain soil health. Additionally, their presence can serve as a natural indicator of a healthy ecosystem, which is vital for sustainable farming practices. Therefore, these owls play a crucial role in the ecological balance of a farm.

Read more about Owl Houses at Mavronero farm here

References

Wikipedia

BirdLife Cyprus

BirdLife International

Avibase

Nestled in the heart of South Cyprus, where the golden rays of the Mediterranean sun kiss the sprawling olive groves, an avian marvel graces the skies—the Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). As denizens of an olive farm, we find ourselves in the company of these remarkable birds of prey, witnessing their grace and prowess in maintaining a delicate balance within our local ecosystem.

Identification and Physical Characteristics

Common Kestrels are small to medium-sized raptors, easily identified by their distinctive plumage and hovering flight. Males and females exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males showcasing slate-blue wings and a rufous-brown back, while females boast a more mottled appearance. Their long wings and tail aid in agile flight, and a characteristic black ‘moustache’ on their face adds to their charm.

Habitat and Nesting

South Cyprus, with its varied landscapes, provides an ideal habitat for Common Kestrels. Olive farms, with their vast groves and surrounding open areas, offer ample hunting grounds. These birds often build their nests in cavities, cliffs, or even repurposed nests of other birds. The farm structures and old olive trees may become their chosen homes, providing a safe haven for breeding.

Read here where the Common Kestrel nested at Mavronero Farm

Dietary Preferences

Common Kestrels play a vital role in pest control, making them allies to olive farmers. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals like rodents and insects. Hovering with remarkable precision, they spot their prey before diving swiftly to grasp it with their sharp talons. This natural pest control helps in safeguarding the olive crop, promoting a healthier and more sustainable farming environment.

Seasonal Movements

While some Common Kestrels in South Cyprus are resident throughout the year, others may engage in seasonal migrations. These migrations are typically influenced by the availability of food resources, and the mild Mediterranean climate makes South Cyprus an attractive destination for overwintering kestrels.

Conservation Status

Despite their adaptability, Common Kestrels face threats such as habitat loss, pesticide exposure, and even illegal hunting. As stewards of the land, it is crucial for us to appreciate and actively contribute to the conservation efforts that protect these birds and their habitats.

Symbolism and Folklore

In various cultures, the kestrel has symbolized different qualities, including agility, speed, and foresight. In South Cyprus, where agriculture is deeply intertwined with the culture and history, the Common Kestrel could be seen as a guardian of the olive groves, embodying the delicate harmony between nature and human endeavors.

Conclusion

The Common Kestrel, with its aerial acrobatics and role in natural pest control, has become an integral part of the South Cypriot olive farm landscape. As we cultivate the land and tend to the olive trees, let us also celebrate the presence of these majestic birds that contribute to the ecological tapestry of our farms. By fostering an environment that supports their well-being, we can ensure that the skies over our olive groves continue to be graced by the enchanting flight of the Common Kestrel.