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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

BirdNote: Owl is Mobbed

Air Date: Week of

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Northern Pygmy-Owl (Photo: Mike Hamilton)

Sometimes, as Mary McCann observes in today’s BirdNote, small birds join together to attack a predator, like an owl. It could be a collective response to danger or just a way to raise the alarm.



PALMER: Animals and birds often behave in ways that seem unexpected, but there’s often a good reason. And, as Mary McCann explains in today’s BirdNote, for small birds, there’s safety in numbers.


BirdNote ® An Owl Is Mobbed

[Northern Pygmy-Owl tooting]

MCCANN: A pint-sized Northern Pygmy-Owl, not much bigger than a pine cone, hoots from a Northwest tree-top on a winter morning. Before long, this rufous-brown, diurnal owl – a determined predator of small birds and mammals – attracts a crowd.

[Pygmy-Owl plus scolding calls of robins, chickadees, and nuthatches]

Aggravated and scolding like mad, a dozen or more small birds dart back and forth, above and below the owl. Chickadees, kinglets, nuthatches, and a Downy Woodpecker all join the fracas. The owl appears stoic, seeming to ignore this tumultuous rally that ornithologists call “mobbing”.

[Mobbing emphasized]

Black-capped chickadee (Photo: PutneyPics)

You might wonder: Why would birds that this aggressive owl regularly eats dare to risk themselves by coming within inches of the predator’s talons?
Scientists believe mobbing to be a collective response to danger. But it’s not certain if the “mobbers” hope to drive the predator off or simply draw attention to the threat. Locally nesting and resident birds are more likely to mob – perhaps because they have more at stake than passing migrants.

[Repeat Pygmy-Owl toots plus scolding calls of robins, chickadees, nuthatches]

I’m Mary McCann.


Written by Bob Sundstrom
Calls of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Pygmy Owl recorded by G.A. Keller, Black-capped Chickadees by R.C. Stein, American Robins by R.S. Little, and Red-breasted Nuthatch by W.L. Hershberger.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2005-2017 Tune In to Nature.org January 2017 Narrator: Mary McCann

PALMER: And, if you like, you can flock on over to our website, LOE.org, for some pictures.



Listen on the BirdNote website

More about the Northern Pygmy-Owl from All About Birds

More about the Black-capped Chickadee from All About Birds


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