Forest Owlet- an endangered bird

Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti) is an endangered bird that is endemic to Central India. They are small and stocky, just 9 inches tall. For comparison, the barred owl (Strix varia) is 19 inches tall. Forest Owlets eat mostly lizards (60 percent of their diet) but will also eat rodents, birds, invertebrates, and frogs. They mate in between October and May in which they are most easily found as they respond to playback calls. Unlike most other owls they hunt during the day. This is likely because their main prey are lizards which come out during the day to bask in the sun which is when they would be most vulnerable to predation. The owlet is however only a morning person as they are not that active after 10 am. They have a few different calls including a hissing call. Their songs are short and mellow which is unlike other owls.

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The bird was first described in 1873 and then not see after 1884 but then rediscovered in 1997. Before rediscovery knowledge of the bird came from 4 collected specimens from very different areas of India. After its recovery, several populations were discovered and appeared to have significant populations, which causes the bird to go from critically endangered to just endangered. Populations are very fragmented and face pressure from shrinking forest sizes. It requires old growth forest, (according to one source and young forest according to another source) which are some of the forests that are most at risk for logging since they have the largest trees. It needs these forests because they contain tree cavities which it uses to nest in. In 2000 5,000 hectares of Forest Owlet habitat was cleared I order to house people who had been displaced by the creation of a dam. Illegal logging is also a problem as people use the area for agriculture. Overgrazing by cattle removes the ground vegetation which in term reduces the populations of the owl’s prey.

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Scientists think there might be 250 or fewer birds left but there is only solid evidence for there being 25 birds. In 2000 a survey using callback recordings found 25 birds including 3 pairs at Taloda Forest Range and 7 pairs at Toranmal Forest Range. In 2004 another survey found 12 adults and 7 fledglings in Toranmal but no birds in Taloda. In 2009 it was determined that one 2 of the original 7 territories. In 2003 it was discovered that the Satpura Range (Maharashtra) is also home to 9 birds, which is about 300 km away from the other known areas. Thankfully Melghat Tiger Reserve contains over 100 individuals. The owl has always occurred in low density, thus putting it at risk for extinction. In addition males will eat their own chicks. It is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 meaning hunting and trapping of the owl are illegal. It is also Included Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade of the bird is illegal.

 

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Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti) range map

 

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