The Little Owl. Story and questions

Mary Woodcock Kroble
Wednesday 10 June 2015
Date: 21 October 2015
Time: 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Speaker: Martin Dobrý  (Pavol Jozef Safarik University in Kosice,  Slovakia )


Owls are the most exciting family of birds in terms of their relationship with humans. The oldest evidence of the human – owl relationship was found in a cave in France and it is about 15,000 years old. More traces can be found around the world including in the Americas, Australia, Asia and the Middle East. There are two very different relationships between owls and humans; positive, when the owl is a symbol of knowledge, and negative, when the owl is a symbol of witchcraft and death. The Little Owl has a special position within all these relationships; it was a symbol of goodness in ancient Rome and Greece. This species is widespread in Europe, Asia and North Africa. It is thought that the original habitats of the little owl were deserts and semi-deserts of North Africa and the Middle East and it colonised Europe as agriculture became more widespread. In Europe, the highest densities are found in Portugal and other southern European countries. In Western and Central Europe, there has been a steep decline of the species in last 50 – 60 years and studies have found a relationship between habitat changes and species density. This decline has been halted in some regions of Benelux, Germany and Austria, but steep declines are still being reported from Central European Countries, including Slovakia. The population of the Little Owl in Slovakia declined from “thousands of the breeding pairs”, reported after WW2, to 600 – 800 occupied localities in the last decade. The study of habitat preferences and the search for predictors of species density in Slovakia should help us to stop this decline and protect the Pannonian population which can then re-colonise regions where it has been extinct for the last decades.

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