The Eurasian Pygmy-owl in Jura, France
The Eurasian Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium passerinum) is a species of nocturnal raptor frequenting large mountain forests. It is a dream for many ornithologists and wildlife photographers as its discovery can be particularly arduous and sometimes random. The smallest owl on the European continent often lives in remote and inaccessible places and can be very discreet.
My "first" encounter with the Eurasian Pygmy-owl goes back to 2013. I put first in quotation marks since I had already heard this owl but I did not have the chance to see it after hours of search, which is very frustrating but participates greatly in the excitement of seeing one for the first time.
The funniest thing about this first sighting is that is what total luck, as I wandered in the company of a few naturalist friends in a large Jura woodland known for hosting the different species typical of the area. We were in the middle of May at a little over 1000 meters altitude and the thick snow still blocked the road, which forced us to park below the massif. It ended up being the best news ever! Indeed, after some effort to walk on the snow without snowshoes, and while we were a little distracted by our conversation, I saw a bird land at the top of a spruce in front of us. I quickly understood that it was not a "usual" bird, first of all because of its small size (this owl is about the size of a starling), its rounded appearance, and its wavy typical flight which I had read the description many times in the books. A quick look in the binoculars confirmed my guess: a Eurasian Pygmy-owl, FINALLY! The adrenaline rush was immediate and intense, a big moment of joy for us all! We did not miss to celebrate this lifer in a beautiful typical cottage of Jura the same evening.
Since then, I have observed several Eurasian Pygmy-owls and their search in the mythical forests of Jura and Vosges are still very exciting.
How to identify the Eurasian Pygmy-owl?
The Eurasian Pygmy-owl is a very small globally brown owl speckled with white dots above and whitish striped brown underneath. It has a rather "round" appearance, with a short-tailed and a rather “aggressive” look with her yellow eyes surmounted by white eyebrows.
Unlike some other families of birds, nocturnal raptors are represented by a limited number of species in France and they are relatively easy to identify. The Eurasian Pygmy-owl could be confused with one species in particular: the Little Owl (Athene noctua). However, this owl lives in semi-open and open lowland environments, unlike the Eurasian Pygmy-owl, which is an altitude forest bird. However, when identifying a bird, consider habitat with caution because most birds have the ability to fly 😉 so everything is potentially possible!
Where to see the Eurasian Pygmy-owl in the Jura?
The species is widely distributed throughout the Jura massif, from the south of the region (border with the Ain) to the north of the Doubs at altitudes ranging from more than 1000 meters (majority of breeders) to 500-600 meters¹, ³ to a lesser extent. The Swiss Jura is also well occupied by the species where it is extensively studied ², ³.
The Eurasian Pygmy-owl is strongly linked to a preserved nature! It frequents the old coniferous forests mixed with hardwoods where dead trees are numerous and the proportions of senescent parcels important. It has the particularity to reproduce in old cavities of Great Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major) and Three-toed Woodpeckers (Picoides tridactylus).
How is the species doing in Franche-Comté and Jura?
The Franche-Comté region bears a national responsibility since a large population breeds there¹. It is growing in France and seems to follow the same trend in the French and Swiss Jura ³. Its distribution have changed in recent decades, particularly because of a greater interest in these small owls but also an extension of its range, thus improving its presence regionally and nationally. We know today that, like her cousin, the Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus), its population has significant fluctuations in relation variations in food resources essentially. Also, global forest rejuvenation and climate change could reverse this positive trend in the future ¹.
Join us for our ethical bird photo tour in French Jura to have a chance to observe the Eurasian Pygmy-owl and many other bird species typical of the Jura mountains.
Guide Salva Fauna
¹ LPO Franche-Comté (2017). Les oiseaux de Franche-Comté - Répartition, tendances et conservation. Biotopes éditions. 480 p.
³ Michelat D., Gauthier-Clerc M. (2016). Statut de la Chevêchette d’Europe Glaucidium passerinum dans le Jura franc-comtois. Ornithos 23-1 – p.28-43.