Backyard Birds

Little Owls: Subspecies, Ranges and ID

Between 10 – 13 races are currently recognized. They differ in size – the smallest owls occur in northeast Africa and the largest in Asia. The color of the plumage ranges from various shades of grey-brown, rufous-brown to yellowish-brown.

  • Little Owl (Athene noctua noctua – Scopoli, 1769) – Nominate Form
    • Range: Central Europe, from South Germany to Sardinia and Sicily, and east to Romania.
    • ID: White-speckled brown above and brown-streaked white below.
    • Subspecies:
      • [Athene noctua sarda] – Usually considered invalid
        [Athene noctua daciae] – Usually considered invalid
        [Athene noctua salentina] – Usually considered invalid
  • [North African Little Owl(Athene noctua glaux or Athene lilith glaux – Savigny, 1809)]
    • Range: Northern Africa, and coastal Israel south from Haifa in northern Israel.
    • Recent findings place this race as subspecies of the Lilith Owl (Athene [noctua] lilith).
  • Bactrian Little Owl, Hutton’s Owlet, Hutton’s Little Owl (Athene noctua bactriana – Blyth, 1847)
    • Range: Southeastern Azerbaijan, eastern Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan east through central Asia to the Balkhash Lake.
    • Range overlaps with race or ssp. lilith in Iraq.
  • South-east European Little Owl (Athene noctua indigena or Athene lilith indigena – C. L. Brehm, 1855)
    • Range: Albania, southeastern Yugoslavia, southern and eastern Romania, southern Ukraine, south Russia, Caucasus, and southwestern Siberia, south to Crete, Turkey (except southeastern parts), and the Middle East south to Haifa in northern Israel.
    • Range overlaps with ssp. vidalii over a wide area in northwestern Russia, central Russia, northern Ukraine, and Belarus; and with nominate form Noctua in former Yugoslavia.
    • Recent findings place this race as a subspecies of the Lilith Owl (Athene [noctua] lilith).
  • North Western Little Owl (Athene noctua vidalii – A. E. Brehm, 1857)
    • Range: Western and northern Europe, from the southern Baltic Sea to Iberia, including Balearic Island) and east to northwestern Russia.
    • Range overlaps with ssp. indigena over a wide area in northwestern Russia, central Russia, northern Ukraine, and Belarus; and nominate form noctua over a wide area from southern France east to Czech and Slovak Republics
    • Subspecies:
      • [Athene noctua grueni] – usually considered invalid
      • [Athene noctua cantabriensis] – usually considered invalid
  • East African Barred Owlet, Red Sea Little Owl (Athene noctua spilogastra – Heuglin, 1869)
    • Range: Eastern Sudan and northern Ethiopia.
  • Little Owl (Athene noctua plumipes – Swinhoe, 1870)
    • Range: Northeast China, Mongolia and Ussuriland.
  • Little Owl (Athene noctua orientalis – Severetzov, 1873
    • Range: Extreme northwestern China and adjacent Siberia.
  • Somali Little Owl (Athene noctua somaliensis – Reichenow, 1905)
    • Range: Eastern Ethiopia and Somalia.
  • Saharan Little Owl (Athene noctua saharae – Kleinschmidt, 1909)
    • Range: Northern and central Sahara Desert south to the African countries of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan, and east discontinuously into the Arabian Peninsula.
    • Range overlaps with race or ssp. lilith in Saudi Arabia
      • [Athene noctua solitudinis] – usually considered invalid / believed to be synonymous with saharae (one and the same).
  • [Athene noctua desertae] – Proposed race
    • Range: North Africa
    • ID: Paler plumage
  • [Lilith Owl, Hartert’s Little Owl, Levant Little Owl or Syrian Little Owl(Athene noctua lilith or Athene lilith – Hartert, 1913)]
    • Latest findings place the Lilith Owl as a full species with races glaux and indigena as subspecies.
    • Range: Island of Cyprus and inland Middle East from southeastern Turkey south to southern Sinai.
    • Range overlaps with ssp. saharae in Saudi Arabia and with ssp. bactriana in Iraq.
    • ID: Pale grey-brown plumage.
  • Little Owl (Athene noctua ludlowi – Stuart Baker, 1926)
    • Range: South central China and southern and eastern Tibet, south to northern Himalayas.
  • Little Owl (Athene noctua impasta – Bangs and J. L. Peters, 1928)
    • Range: Found in the provinces of Qinghai and Gansu (western parts) located in the northwest of the People’s Republic of China.

More Owl Information


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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