The little owl (Athene noctua) has declined significantly in many parts of Europe, including the Netherlands. To understand the demographic mechanisms underlying their decline, we analysed all available Dutch little owl ringing data. The data set spanned 35 years, and included more than 24,000 ringed owls, allowing detailed estimation of survival rates through multi-state capture– recapture modelling taking dispersal into account. We investigated geographical and temporal variation in agespecific survival rates and linked annual survival estimates to population growth rate in corresponding years, as well as to environmental covariates. The best model for estimating survival assumed time effects on both juvenile and adult survival rates, with average annual survival estimated at 0.258 (SE = 0.047) and 0.753 (SE = 0.019), respectively. Juvenile survival rates decreased with time whereas adult survival rates fluctuated regularly among years, low survival occurring about every 4 years. Years when the population declined were associated with low juvenile survival. More than 60% of the variation in juvenile survival was explained by the increase in road traffic intensity or in average temperature in spring, but these correlations rather reflect a gradual decrease in juvenile survival coinciding with longterm global change than direct causal effects. Surprisingly, vole dynamics did not explain the cyclic dynamics of adult survival rate. Instead, dry and cold years led to low adult survival rates. Low juvenile survival rates, that limit recruitment of first-year breeders, and the regular occurrence of years with poor adult survival, were the most important determinants of the population decline of the little owl.