Status: Critically endangered
Known as: Forest owlet, Forest spotted owlet, forest little owl
Estimated numbers left in wild: 50 to 250
The forest owlet is a very small member of the owl family, measuring only 23 centimetres in length. This is a chunky little owl with a large head for its body. While the plumage of the owlet is rather drab, being a greyish-brown in colour, with some barring on the wings, the eyes of the owl are a bright and distinctive lemon yellow. The forest owlet has very large talons which it uses to catch prey that can sometimes be larger than the owlet itself.
The forest owlet was known, until recently, only from specimens that had been collected in the 1800s. It was rediscovered in 1997, and has since been the subject of much research. This owlet is extremely rare, and the populations are isolated and fragmented from one another. It is thought that the head-bobbing and tail flicks that the forest owlet engages in are a form of communication with other owlets.
Diet: This small owl feeds on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards, birds, and frogs. It hunts from a perch, dropping down to attack the prey animal. Caches of food are often made in hollow trees. The forest owl is active in the daytime, rather than at night, and enjoys sunning, especially in cooler weather.
Breeding: The female forest owlet prepares a nest in a tree cavity and lays two eggs between October and March. When the young hatch, the female not only provides most of the care they receive, but must also defend them against attacks by male forest owlets, even the father in some cases.
Location: Central India, particularly the Melghat reserve in the Narmada River Valley, appears to be the place most likely to support the forest owlet. There are several small populations scattered through this area, but isolated from one another.
By choice, this owlet prefers to inhabit drier forest areas, especially those with plenty of grass and brush in the under-story. However, due to human pressures, the forest owlet will live in wetter forests if its preferred habitat is unavailable.
Threats: Habitat destruction and deforestation are the main threats to the existence of the forest owlet. Illegal wood cutting and expansion of agriculture has greatly reduced, and continues to reduce, the forest this owlet requires. Superstitious beliefs among the local human populations also take a toll of the owlet. The eggs of the owlet are thought to boost one’s chances of winning when gambling, and killing a baby owlet is supposed to make the person more fertile. The forest owlet is also simply killed because it is thought to harm the soul.
Conservation efforts: Efforts are under way to educate the villagers about the owlets so that they will stop killing them needlessly. The Melghat Tiger Reserve has also received more protection since the discovery of the forest owlet, which has helped to stabilize the numbers of these small birds. The forest owlet is now not only protected by CITES, but the Indian government has awarded it full protection from trapping, egg collection, or hunting.
Do you know of or are you a part of an organisation that work to conserve the Forest Owlet, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.