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Forest Owlet

Athene blewitti

The Forest Owlet, Athene blewitti, is a small and stocky bird, measuring a mere 23 cm in length. It is a member of the typical owl family, Strigidae, and is characterized by its relatively large skull and beak. The bird's upperparts are a dark grey-brown, while the upper breast is almost solid brown. The wings and tail are heavily banded, with white trailing edges that are particularly noticeable in flight.

Identification Tips

Distinguishing features of the Forest Owlet include a whitish underside with fewer and fainter spots on the crown and back compared to the Spotted Owlet. The primaries are darker and distinct, and a dark carpal patch can be seen on the underwing during flight. The facial disc is pale, and the eyes are a striking yellow.

Habitat

The Forest Owlet is found in dense to open deciduous forests, with a preference for areas that have clearings within the forests. These habitats often contain trees such as Tectona grandis, Lagerstroemia parvifolia, Boswellia serrata, and Lannea grandis.

Distribution

Endemic to central India, the Forest Owlet's presence has been confirmed in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. Notable locations include the Melghat Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra and the Purna Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat.

Behaviour

This diurnal predator hunts from perches, waiting patiently before chasing after prey with a rapid flick of its tail. Its diet is varied, consisting mainly of lizards, skinks, rodents, birds, invertebrates, and frogs. During the breeding season, the male provides food to the female at the nest, and the female in turn feeds the young. Nestlings fledge after about a month.

Song & Calls

The Forest Owlet produces a range of calls, from a hissing sound to short and mellow song calls that are disyllabic, "oh-owow," but can sound monosyllabic. Territorial calls are transcribed as "kwaak … kk, kwaa..kk," and a contact call of "kee yah, kee…yah" is heard when males bring food to females at the nest. Alarm calls are a rapid "chirrur… chirrur, chirr…chirr."

Breeding

Peak courtship occurs in January and February, with the owlets being very responsive to call playback. They exhibit strong diurnal tendencies, with most activity occurring before 10 in the morning. On colder days, they may be seen basking atop tall trees.

Conservation status

The Forest Owlet is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated population of fewer than 1,000 mature individuals. The primary threat to its survival is deforestation, which leads to habitat loss and degradation. It is also listed in CITES Appendix I, highlighting the international concern for its conservation.

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Forest Owlets on Birda

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