Northern Pygmy Owl Story in June/July Issue of National Wildlife Magazine

Posted Jun. 3rd, 2009 by Daniel J. Cox


After working on this story for nearly 5 years, it’s finally been published. I want to thank Denver Holt of the Owl Research Institute and Graham Frey of the Rocky Mountain Front Institute of Natural History. Both of these guys are superb biologists and great friends. None of this work would have been possible without them. Thanks to John Nuhn at the National Wildlife Federation as well. I’ve been working with John since 1981 and it’s an understatement to say we go way back.

All of the images in this piece were shot in Montana. I first became interested in the Pygmy Owl due to a chance encounter on the deck of my home in the mountains outside of Bozeman. I had just gotten out of bed, made coffee, and was sipping a cup of joe looking out the large glass doors of our kitchen. It was early January and it had snowed the night before. The mountains were beautiful and deck was covered in what looked like eight inches of powdered sugar. As I stood there admiring the incredible beauty of this glorious winter day, a bolt of feathers comes blasting out of the trees to my right, headed straight towards a chickadee foraging at the feeder. I instinctively knew it was a predator and began banging the glass window with the back of my hand. The loud commotion worked and the little bird was dropped. He was alive but stunned lying in  the snow. I opened the door and picked him up, put him in a box next to the wood stove and waited until he regained his senses. While waiting I went back over to the door, looked out and on the rail of the deck was a little owl. I was amazed at how small he was. He flew down to the spot the chickadee had fallen, sniffed the snow as if trying to track the injured prey and then bolted off into the trees. This all happened within a 30-second time frame. That’s all I saw of this dynamic diminutive creature.

I get my bird book out and tracked him down as most likely being a northern pygmy owl. I was hooked and would now spend the next ten years trying to get closer and find out more about this charismatic little owl. These pictures are the culmination of my search. I hope you enjoy them.

Follow this link to see additional photos that weren’t used in the NWF article.

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