We have had Little Owls resident at Eland Lodge for all of the 16 years we have been here. The population never seems to vary, the same family in the same redundant building never diminishing or expanding always constant. They are not a prolific breeder, they raise only one clutch per year of 3-4 eggs and have a typical life span in the wild of three to four years which is not untypical for owls unfortunately. As they are not the most “busy” in the breeding stakes, they are obviously susceptible to changes in environment, feed and disease. Thankfully as we don’t use any pesticides, artificial fertilisers or weed killers the environment here is very stable and lacking in the poisons that have destroyed so many ecosystems. The stability this provides is an ideal environment for the owls to breed and maintain populations. As well as the lack of chemical inputs, we have taken some other more positive steps to help all of our bird populations, those domestic and those visiting seasonally. There are large tracks of uncultivated ground crossing the site allowing breeding environments for invertebrates and small mammals providing feeding opportunities for all of the birds on site. From small insects both flying and sedentary, larger invertebrates, beetles, harvestmen and the like, worms, field mice, voles etc these overgrown spaces provide a rich source of life, food and shelter and drive biodiversity.
The Little Owls feed off a mixture of invertebrates, beetles insects and the like, they will take small mammals such as field mice or voles but when you pull apart their owl pellets,(the regurgitated, indigestible parts of their food), it’s made up mostly of invertebrates. It never fails to surprise me how we exaggerate the size of they prey most hunters take, wolves are typically shown bringing down caribou or musk oxen but their diet is usually sustained by smaller prey like lemmings. And so it is with the Little Owl, whilst capable of catching mice and the like it’s normally more mundane fayre for our little friends. The owl pellets show that the bulk of the stuff they catch and eat are beetles and other large invertebrates.
Whilst on the subject of Owl Pellets, they are a fascinating thing in themselves. All owls produce them, they are the indigestible elements of their prey, normally bone, fur, insect carapaces they give a fascinating insight into the owl’s diet. The pellet is regurgitated,"sicked up” if you will, it has not gone all the way through the owl’s digestive system so they don’t smell, they are not slimy and are easy to handle. Owls normally regurgitate the pellets on a resting post or vantage point so they are quite easy to find and once found, you have a clear picture of what the bird had to eat over the last 48hrs. Don’t be squeamish put some gloves on if you have to and pull a few apart, you will be enthralled! The Barn Owl and Tawney Owl pellets are most fun, you can see the skulls and large limb bones of the small mammals they catch and devour, so their diet is obvious. Little Owl pellets are no less informative, you can see the masses of beetle and insect exoskeletons in them together with the occasional mammalian bit.
So there you have it, our favourite, constant, little friend who has occupied the site long before we came and will hopefully reside here long after we are gone. I love having them here they enrich us and the site and it is my fervent hope that they continue to prosper and enjoy their stay here. We will do everything we can to encourage and protect them.