Forest Owlets

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Photo WantedThe Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti) is an owl which breeds in central India. This species is a part of the larger grouping of owls known as typical owls, Strigidae, which contains most species of owl. The other grouping is the barn owls, Tytonidae.

The Forest Owlet is small (23cm) and stocky. It is a typical owlet with a rather plain crown and heavily banded wings and tail. The upperparts are dark grey-brown, faintly spotted white. It has broadly banded, blackish-brown and white wings and tail, with a broad white tail-tip. The breast is brown, and the remaining underparts are white. The facial disc is pale and the eyes are yellow. It appears to be quite strongly diurnal (active during daytime) and fairly easy to detect, frequently perching on prominent bare branches. Lizards appear to be important prey.

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 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 effort in the Satpura Range has located another five sites.

The Forest Owlet remains critically endangered, and the current population has been estimated at less than 250. It is considered that this owl has always been rare. The original specimens were collected in dense jungle, and the recent sightings in more open forest may be living in suboptimal habitat. Plains-level forest in its range has been totally cleared, and there is pressure on the remaining forest resources.

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