Northern Pygmy-Owl at Maplewood

I swung by Maplewood Conservation Area on Friday afternoon (29 Oct) while on my way home from school and, just as I was leaving the place, I had the distinct pleasure of watching a Northern Pygmy-Owl catch a Black-capped Chickadee in the trees nearby the bird feeders at the entrance. Maplewood is a good spot to see this species in the Vancouver area and, if you have a look at eBird, you will see that just about everyone has seen it there except me.  It’s not from lack of trying that I had yet to see the bird; I’d gone after it on several occasions soon after the bird has been reported and sometimes I’ve even been there on the same day that others have seen it.  On Friday I finally caught up with my nemesis bird in a spectacular way!

After a couple of minutes spent watching the activity going on at the feeders around 1730 the birds became noticeably agitated and began giving alarm calls. I turned around to have a look at the source of the calls just in time to see the owl dive into a bush close to the path; at this point the Chickadees, House finches, and sparrows were in full panic. Here is a shaky video I shot with my cell phone showing the chaos that ensued after the owl made a kill…

Well, it doesn’t quite capture all of the activity going on after the owl made its kill but at least you can kinda hear the birds screaming bloody murder.

It must have been about 30 seconds or so after the owl dived into the bush that it re-emerged with the chickadee in its talons. It flew up to a branch about 3m above the ground in the tree just by the bush where it sat for about a minute just resting. I would imagine that carrying the chickadee must’ve been a bit of work for the little owl. Black-capped Chickadees weigh between 10 and 14 grams and Northern Pygmy-Owls between 60 to 70 grams so this little owl had to transport roughly 20% of its body weight (1, 2). The bird moved from branch to branch; pausing for up to a minute at each stop. I eventually lost track of it as it flew further away from the path and my position; though a group of chickadees stayed with it continually scolding the bird.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl was a great way to wrap up the day particularly since I had spent years chasing this species at Maplewood. After continually missing a bird that others have seen with relative ease one begins to doubt their abilities as a birder. The sense of satisfaction after seeing it was immense!

References:

1.      Foote, Jennifer R., Daniel J. Menill, Laurene M. Ratcliffe and Susan M. Smith. 2010. Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/039doi:10.2173/bna.39

2.      Holt, Denver W. and Julie L. Petersen. 2000. Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/494doi:10.2173/bna.494

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