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Forest Owlet: Why is it critically endangered?

The forest owlet is a forest-dwelling owl that’s native to the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada and is a critically endangered species and possibly extinct species.

The forest owlet was once found throughout its range but has been reduced to a few isolated populations in Maine, India, and Ontario. This article will explore why this bird has been so hard-hit by population declines.

The forest owlet nests on or near the ground, laying three eggs in an old woodpecker hole or natural cavity. It eats small mammals such as shrews, voles, squirrels, and chipmunks as well as insects like grasshoppers and beetles. In fact, there are over 200 species of insect that have been recorded from their diet! They also eat berries from oaks, blueberry, and winterberry.

It is a forest bird that typically nests in forest areas close to a forest edge or forest openings, such as abandoned fields or burned areas. Those forest edges give them access to hunting grounds for their insect diet and open spaces into which they can escape from predators like raccoons and skunks.

Description of Forest Owlet

forest owlet
  • 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 centimeters in length.

This is an owl species with a large head for its body. While the plumage of the owlet is rather drab, being a greyish-brown color, 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.

Until recently, the forest owlet was known only from specimens 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 the forest owlet engages in are a form of communication with other owlets.


Forest Owlet hiding in the tree

Eucalyptus nana is a medium-sized tree that is grey-brown with a white brow. It’s found in lowland forest between 200 and 600 meters above sea level. Teak is one of his favorite woods. He makes guttural noises, such as “huhuhuhu,” along with various clicks and whistles.

The forest owlet is one of the world’s tiniest raptors, measuring just 23 cm in length with a wingspan that only reaches about 58-66 cm. It has large talons that are used to catch prey that can sometimes be bigger than itself!


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.


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.


Central India, particularly the Melghat Tiger Reserve in the Narmada River Valley, is most likely to support the forest owlet. There are several small populations scattered throughout this area but isolated from one another.

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.

Conservation Efforts for the Forest Owlet

Two Forest Owlets sitting in the tree

Over the past decade, forest owl populations in wooded areas have been dropping at a rate of 2% each year. The forest owlet is a forest-dependent bird that has been harmed by deforestation and degradation. Although forest owls haven’t been extensively studied, they are thought to exist on a global scale in very small numbers.

Deforestation poses a significant threat to the forest owl’s survival, especially as a result of logging, agriculture, plantations, wood gathering, and other human activities. Predator attacks on nest failure due to habitat loss are also rising. Another problem facing endangered species is hunting for food since small amounts of forested areas are sufficient for forest owlets to survive.

A deciduous forest habit, fragmentation, and degradation threaten the forest owlet. While forest owls have not been studied extensively, they are known to have a very small global range. This species survives in isolated populations in less than 7 square kilometers of forest patches.

The survival of the forest owlet is threatened by deforestation owing to logging, agriculture, plantations, wood gathering, and other human activities. Predator attacks on nest failure due to habitat loss are also rising.

There is no specific conservation strategy, but several forest reserves have been established to keep forest owl populations viable. Furthermore, human activity and hunting are restricted in the forests, a major cause of forest owlet deaths.

Logging for forest resources is considered the most severe threat to forest-dependent birds like forest owlets, especially due to its direct effect on forest quality and the availability of suitable nesting sites. Preventing deforestation within forest habitats is critical for forest owl conservation efforts.


A majestic forest owlet perched on a branch in its natural habitat captured in a premium photo for the article "Forest Owlet" on OurEndangeredWorld.

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 affect 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.

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Conservation efforts

Forest Owlet sitting in the branch
Hari K Patibanda, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Efforts are underway 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.

CITES now protects the forest owlet, and the Indian government has awarded it full protection from trapping, egg collection, or hunting.

There are many forest owlet and owl conservation efforts underway. One such forest owlet conservation effort is to educate the local people about these owls and why they should be left alone to live peacefully.

Another conservation effort has been to protect forest areas where forest owlets live. It’s also possible that the forest owlet could get protection from other animal groups or organizations that help endangered animals.


Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the critically endangered Forest Owlet, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.

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