Whooooo doesn’t love Harry Potter? Did you know you can meet some of the actors without a trip to London? Of course you can… some of them live in your own backyard!
Lets start small... with Pigwidgeon!
Pigwidgeon is a Eurasian Scops Owl. In the Harry Potter books, Pigwidgeon is gifted to Ron Weasley from Sirius Black partly as an apology for taking away Ron’s beloved pet rat. Pigwidgeon is a tiny hyperactive owl that Ron is both proud of and annoyed by.
Scops owls do not live in Alberta, so I am afraid you won’t see Pigwidgeon around here. However, we have several similar species. Both the Northern Saw-whet Owl and the Northern Pygmy Owl could fit in the palm of your hand, just like a Eurasian Scops Owl. Pigwidgeon would be almost exactly the same height and weight as a Saw-whet owl, up to 140 g and 20 cm tall.
In Europe, Scops owls are nocturnal like the Saw-whet. They occupy similar habitat, but Scops Owls will use more open spaces. Both will occupy deciduous forest, but Saw-whets prefer mixed deciduous and coniferous forest while Scops Owls will use deciduous forests, orchards, or open areas with scattered trees as well.
Both species nest in holes in trees, so they require snags, or dead trees, to be left standing to provide homes for them. They need woodpeckers to bore holes for them to use. If there aren’t enough natural cavities, they will use nestboxes to raise their young.
One big difference between Pigwidgeon the Eurasian Scops Owl and a Northern Saw-whet Owl is their diet. Scops owls primarily like to eat insects; Saw-whets like to eat mice.
Scops owl can be found breeding across central Europe and western Russia and wintering across central Africa.
Saw-whets can be found in almost every forested habitat in North America. They range from the Boreal forest down to Mexico.
Both species are migratory, with the Scops Owl flying further distances from Europe to the Sahara, and Saw-whets from the Edmonton area typically flying up to 1000 km to the southeast in winter.
Both Scops and Saw-whet Owls are not uncommon in their respective ranges, but they are both very difficult to see, hence Ron Weasley’s surprise at seeing such a small owl! Being small species they would be prey to many creatures including larger owls, so they spend much of their time hiding.
How to find owls
There are several ways to help you find these elusive birds.
- Watch for smaller birds exhibiting mobbing behaviour.
- Listen in the evenings for hooting
- Join local bird groups for advice and social outings
- Use citizen science – ebird!
So if you are getting ready to celebrate Harry Potter Day, don’t forget the locals! And remember… be responsible. Do not disturb owls to get the perfect photograph. Have fun!
See our previous blog for suggestions of how to help improve habitat for owls.