Son Matt gave me Birding on Borrowed Time by Phoebe Snetsinger. The author was the first person in the world to see over 8,000 different species of birds in over 2,000 genera. I do not know if her record has been broken, but at the time Ms Snetsinger had seen more bird species than any other human. The book recounts her travels over 34 years to all seven continents and innumerable countries. Most of us can only dream about seeing some of the exotic birds she experienced.
As the book and Phoebe Snetsinger’s life drew to an end she was lamenting never seeing a northern pygmy owl (Glaucidium gnoma) despite many attempts. I saw and photographed a northern pygmy owl in the meadow near the Ash Creek Lower Campground in Modoc County CA. The knowledge that I saw a species that this world-class birder was unable to locate filled me with a certain pride, unjustified of course.
Northern pygmy owls feed mostly on small birds. Unlike most owls, they hunt their prey during the day and can be seen sitting atop high tree branches while watching for their next meal. Because they rely on vision, not hearing, northern pygmy owls do not have the asymmetrically located ears and flattened facial discs around their eyes that help most owls locate prey. The pair of spots on the back of the owl’s head look like eyes and may make attackers think the owl is looking at them.
Phoebe Snetsinger did see a northern pygmy owl in Montana the year of her death (1999). That year was spent searching the world and “cleaning up” species that had previously eluded her.
A previous post, Northern Pygmy Owl 11-17-11, discusses the northern pygmy owl more fully.