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Critically Endangered (CR)
Recent Nearby Sightings
Forest Owlet Images
The Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti) is an owl that is endemic to the forests of central India. This species belongs to the typical owls family, Strigidae. After it was described in 1873 and last seen in the wild in 1884, it was considered extinct until it was rediscovered 113 years later in 1997 by Pamela Rasmussen. Searches for the species in the supposed locality where it had been collected had failed and it was found the source of misinformation had been specimens that had been stolen by Richard Meinertzhagen and resubmitted with false location information. It is known from a small number of localities and the populations are very low within the fragmented and shrinking forests of central India, leaving the species critically endangered.
The Forest Owlet is small (23 cm) and stocky. It is a typical owlet with a rather unspotted crown and heavily banded wings and tail. They have a relatively large skull and beak. Unlike the Spotted Owlet, the Forest Owlet has the fewer and fainter spots on the crown and back. The upperparts are dark grey-brown. The upper breast is almost solid brown and the sides are barred with a white central wedge in the lower breast that is sometimes unmarked, especially in males. The primaries are darker and distinct. The wings and tail are banded with white trailing edges. A dark carpal patch on the underwing visible in flight. The facial disc is pale and the eyes are yellow. The species epithet commemorates F. R. Blewitt, the collector of the first specimen that was obtained in December 1872 from Busnah-Phooljan near Basna on the Phuljar highway in eastern Madhya Pradesh. The specimen was sent to Allan Octavian Hume who described it in 1873.
Until its rediscovery in 1997, this owl was known from only seven specimens collected in the nineteenth century, in northern Maharashtra, and south-east Madhya Pradesh/western Orissa. In November 1997 a group of American ornithologists, including Pamela C. Rasmussen, rediscovered the species in foothills of the Satpura Range, north-east of Bombay. In 2000 a survey of 14 forest areas across its former range located 25 birds (using call playback) at four sites in northern Maharashtra and south-western Madhya Pradesh, including three pairs at Taloda Forest Range and seven pairs at Toranmal Forest Range. No birds were found in a brief survey of its former eastern range in Orissa. More recently survey efforts in the Satpura Range added another five sites. The species was also reported from the Chatwa and Padwa forests near Andhra Pradesh by K. S. R. Krishna Raju. The Forest Owlet has sightings from the Talda Forest Range, the Toranmal Forest Range, the Melghat Tiger Reserve, and the Khaknaar Forest Range, all in central India had dense to open deciduous forest. These forest areas had Tectona grandis, Lagerstroemia parvifolia, Boswellia serrata and Lannea grandis. Nest cavities were found in trees at a height of 5 to 8 metres in trees such as Soymida febrifuga. In most areas the trees were too young and lacking cavities suitable for nesting. It has however been reported that human disturbed forests with more clearings within the forests are preferred for foraging.
These owls typically hunt from perches where they sit still and wait for prey. When perched they flick their tails from side to side rapidly and more excitedly when prey is being chased. It was observed in one study that nearly 60% of prey were lizards(including skinks), 15% rodents, 2% birds and the remaining invertebrates and frogs. When nesting the male hunted and fed the female at nest and the young were fed by the female. The young fledge after 3032 days. The peak courtship season is in January to February during which time they are very responsive to call playback with a mixture of song and territorial calls. They appear to be strongly diurnal although not very active after 10 AM, often hunting during daytime. On cold winter mornings they bask on the tops of tall trees. Filial cannibalism by males has been observed.
They make several different calls. These include a hissing call of short duration. The song calls are short and mellow unlike those of most owls. They are usually disyllabic, oh-owow but sound monosyllabic and each note ascends and descends rapidly. The territorial calls have been transcribed as kwaak kk, kwaa..kk. A contact call of kee yah, keeyah is given when the male brings food to the female at nest. The alarm calls is a chirrur chirrur, chirrchirr while a beeging keek, keek calls is made when young or females seek food.
The Forest Owlet remains critically endangered, and the current population has been estimated at less than 250. It is thought that this owl has always been rare. The original specimens were collected in dense jungle, and the recent sightings in more open forest may represent suboptimal habitat. The forest in the plains in its range has been totally cleared, and there is pressure on the remaining forest resources. A recent reassessment in non-protected areas of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh affirms its presence at two places. In Maharashtra a pair was observed (out of 7 pairs in 2004) in Toranmal Reserve Forest and in Madhya Pradesh six individuals were observed in Khaknar (Jathar and Patil 2011).