Scientific name: Athene blewitti.
Synonyms: Heteroglaux blewitti Hume (1873), Rasmussen and Anderton
This species is placed in the genus Athene, with which
it shows considerable
resemblance. However, its original placement in its own genus, Heteroglaux, by
Hume may be justified based on current osteological evidence.
We follow Tim Inskipp's updated (2009) version of the Oriental Bird Club
which retains the species in genus Athene, as does the 2nd Edition (2008) of
'Owls of the World' by Konig et.al.[31,32]
Other common name: Forest Spotted Owlet, Forest Little Owl, Indian Forest
Local names: No known local names. Similar, Spotted Owlet is known as
Khakusat, Khusattia in Hindi, Pingla
in Marathi, and "'Dooda' in Korku dialect in Melghat"
Status: Critically Endangered
The Forest Owlet belongs to the Strigidae
('true' or 'typical' owls)
family, which is the larger of the two families of owls. The key feature that characterizes this family is the circular facial
disk and large eyes. The talons have a smooth edge on the claw of the third
toe. In comparison, tytonids show a heart-shaped facial disk and have a
comb-like pectinate middle toe. Strigids are cryptically coloured, have a
short-tailed compact structure, are large-headed, and are mainly nocturnal
birds. They are often divided into 2 subfamilies: Buboninae and Striginae.
They occupy virtually all terrestrial habitats, but most are forest dwelling[34,39,40].
The Strigidae family contains 192 species in 24 genera and
548 taxa and have a worldwide distribution. 80% of strigids are to be
found in the tropics. The genus Athene (derived from the
goddess Athena in Greek mythology) contains four species: Spotted Owlet (Athene
brama), Little Owl (Athene noctua), Forest Owlet (Athene
blewitti - sometimes placed in Heteroglaux), Burrowing Owl (Athene
cunicularia - sometimes placed in Speotyto). The 1st three occur in
The Forest Owlet is a restricted-range endemic limited to Narmada River
Valley region in central India. Though placed in the genus Athene, it is
thought to be closely
related to Glaucidium.
First discriminated as new by F. R. Blewitt, the
specimen collected from "Busnah-Phooljan" in eastern Madhya Pradesh in
December 1872 was described by A. O. Hume in 1873 in 'Stray Feathers'.
The species went missing from 1884, and was considered extinct. 113 years
later it was rediscovered in November 1997 by Ben King, Pamela Rasmussen and
David Abbott at Shahada near Taloda in the Nandurbar District of Maharashtra.
Part of the delay in rediscovery is attributed to misleading collection
records kept by Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen.
Melghat Tiger Reserve,
Description: A compact 23cm square-headed dark grey-brown owlet with
faintly spotted crown and mantle. A brown breast band below the white
throat separates the unmarked white lower breast, legs and under-tail coverts.
The sides and flanks are prominently and broadly banded. The scapulars have
large central white spots and the upperwing coverts are uniform brown,
the white spots being confined to the greater coverts near the leading edge of
the wing. There are broad distinct white bars across the tail feathers, one
being terminal. The white supercila is rather straight and the hind collar is
almost indistinguishable. The auriculars blend with surrounding areas and lack a
white rear border. In flight the species
shows a dark carpal patch on the underwing. The broad wings and tail appear
strongly banded and the dark breast band contrasts with the white of the
rest of the plumage. Sexes are similar, though males are said to be smaller
than females with fewer markings on belly and breast. The
appears to be a crepuscular and diurnal forager.
Habits: Perched birds wag their tails from side
to side rapidly and indulge in exaggerated head bobbing. On cold winter mornings they are often seen sunning
themselves from tall bare branches.
Forest Owlet (left)
and Spotted Owlet
Call: Has a broad repertoire of calls including
hissing noises and alarm calls. The bisyllabic "oh-owow" or "uh-wuwww"
calls have a loud mellow musical quality about them and other calls include a
"kwaak-kk" and "chirrur...chirrur" and buzzing 'shree' notes[4,8,13].
Occurrence: Local endemic across the states of Madhya Pradesh,
Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Orissa [see map], the
Owlet now appears to be restricted to the Satpuda Mountain ranges in central
India. Historically, known from specimens collected from Phuljar
(20017'N 82046'E), Taloda
and Sandesh (21032'N 74030'E), it is currently known to survive only in parts of the Satpura Range along the Tapti River in
and south-western Madhya Pradesh. Present sites include Melghat Tiger Reserve
(21040'N 77020'E), the Taloda, Toranmal
& Mahendri Reserve Forests, Yawal
WLS, and Burhanpur & Khandawa forest divisions. Melghat is considered to be the specie's
stronghold. There are also unconfirmed reports of recent sightings from Chatwa
and Padwa forests near Andhra Pradesh[4,5,7,11,19,23,43].
Current range: Between 22000'N 74000'E, 22000'N 77035'E and 21010'N 74000'E,
Recent observations from area bounded in red
Population: Birdlife International estimates the global population to
be between 50 and 249 birds and decreasing. Since 1999, various
surveys have counted a total
of 67 individuals at Toranmal(14), Mahendri(1), Khaknar(4),
Khandwa(24), and Melghat Tiger
Reserve(22). The surveys indicate the presence of a more
widespread population than previously thought, and this may auger well for the
future of the species.
Illegal felling, forest clearing, forest fires, anthropogenic pressure,
predation, use of pesticides and superstitions among tribals are a continuing
threat to the survival of the small population.
Habitat: The Forest Owlet inhabits the Narmada
Valley dry deciduous forests [IM0207] which represents the
seasonally influenced teak (Tectona grandis) dominated forests along the
Narmada River Valley, flanked by the Vindhya and Satpura Mountain Ranges. Its preferred
forest habitat has an upper canopy at 15-25 meters with a 10-15 meter
understory. Although previously known to inhabit moist deciduous forest or
dense jungle, the current range covers open teak forest at about 400-600
habitat ~ Melghat Tiger Reserve
Food: Mainly lizards and small rodents. Also
takes amphibians, invertebrates and nestlings.
Breeding: Breeds between October to March. Lays
two eggs in a hole in a softwood tree. The incubation period is estimated at
Conservation status: "This species has a tiny, severely fragmented
population, known from less than ten recent locations. It is likely to be
declining as a result of loss of its deciduous forest habitat. Although
surveys continue to discover more individuals, these factors lead to its
present classification as Critically Endangered. Further information may
warrant its downlisting to a lower category of threat in future.
Conservation measures: The Forest Owlet is protected under Schedule I of the
Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and its hunting or trapping is prohibited in
India. It is also listed on CITES Appendix I and II.
References and sources:
BirdLife International (2009) Species
factsheet: Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewitti.
BirdLife International Heteroglaux
blewitti in: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version
BirdLife International 2003. Heteroglaux
blewitti (Forest Owlet). In Threatened birds of Asia: The BirdLife
International Red Data book. Cambridge: BirdLife International.
Wikipedia: Forest Owlet
5. King, B. F. & P. C. Rasmussen (1998) "The
rediscovery of the Forest Owlet Athene (Heteroglaux) blewitti".
Forktail 14: 53-55.
6. Rasmussen, P. C. & Collar, N. J. (1999). "A major specimen fraud in the
Forest Owlet Heteroglaux (Athene auct.) blewitti". Ibis 141: 11-21.
7. Rasmussen PC & NJ Collar (1998). "Identification,
distribution and status of the Forest Owlet Athene (Heteroglaux) blewitti".
Forktail 14: 41-49.
8. Rasmussen, P. C. & Ishtiaq, F. (1999). "Vocalizations
and Behaviour of Forest Spotted Owlet Athene blewitti". Forktail
9. Rasmussen, P. C. (1988) "Rediscovery
of an Indian enigma: the Forest Owlet". OBC Bulletin 27.
10. Ishtiaq, Farah (2000): Red Data Bird: Forest Spotted Owlet: Newsletter for
Birdwatchers: 40-3: May-June: 29-31
11. Ishtiaq F & Rahmani AR (2000). "Further
information on the status and distribution of the Forest Owlet Athene blewitti
in India". Forktail 16: 125-130.
12. Ishtiaq F & Rahmani AR (2000). "Cronism
in the Forest Owlet Athene (Heteroglaux) blewitti". Forktail 16:
13. Farah Ishtiaq, Asad R. Rahmani & Pamela Rasmussen (2002). Ecology and
behaviour of the Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti) in Ecology and Conservation of
Owls: Proceedings of the Owls 2000. ISBN 0643067949.
14. Ishtiaq, F. and A. R. Rahmani (2005) The Forest Owlet Heteroglaux
blewitti: vocalization, breeding biology and conservation. Ibis:147(1):
15. Jathar G. (2002) The Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewitti in Western Khandesh,
Mistnet Vol.3 No.3 (July-Sept) pp.3
16. Jathar G. (2003): Saving the mysterious Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewitti,
Mistnet, Vol.4, No.3&4(Jul-Dec) pp.9-10
17. Jathar, G. A, S. S. Talmale, M. S. Pradhan and A. R. Rahmani (2005)
Mammalian prey species of the Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewitti Hume. Journal
of Bombay Natural History Society 102(2): 230-232
18. Jathar, G. and A. R. Rahmani (2004) Ecological studies of the Forest
Spotted Owlet Athene (Heteroglaux) blewitti. Final report BNHS: 1-77.
19. Mehta Prachi, Jayant Kulkarni, D Patil, P Kolte and P Khatavkar 2007.
Survey of Critically Endangered Forest Owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti) in Central
India". Final Report. Envirosearch,
20. Hume, A. O. (1873) Stray Feathers Vol. 1: 468.
21. Whistler, H. and Ticehurst C. B. (ms), Birds of India. Smithsonian
22. Rithe K. (2003): "Saving
the Forest Owlet", Sanctuary Asia XXII
23. Kasambe. R, Pande. S, Wadatkar J, Pawashe. A, (2004):
Records of the Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewitti"
in Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, Newsletter for Ornithologists: Vol.
24. Kasambe R., Wadatkar J., Bhusum N.S., & Kasdekar F.(2005):
Owlets Heteroglaux blewitti in Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra",
Newsletter for Birdwatchers: Vol.45-III : 38-40
25. Ripley, S. D. (1952) Vanishing and extinct bird species of India., J.
Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc., 50: 902-906.
26. Ripley, S. D. (1961), A synopsis of the birds of India and Pakistan.,
Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay.
27. Ripley, S. D. (1976) Reconsideration of, Athene blewitti, (Hume)., J.
Bombay Nat., Hist. Soc. 73: 1-4.
28. Baker, S. (1927) The Fauna of British India, Cylone and Burma (Second
Edition). Birds Vol. 4: 441
29. Davidson, J. (1881) Rough list of the birds of western Khandesh., Stray
Feathers, 10: 279-327.
30. Ali, S. A. and S. D. Ripley (1969) Handbook of the Birds of India and
Pakistan. Oxford University Press, Bombay. Vol.3
31. Claus K?ig and Friedhelm Weick (2008) Owls of the World. Christopher
Helm. ISBN-13: 9780713665482
32. Tim Inskipp (2009)
Checklist of birds of the region covered by the Oriental
Bird Club (Dickinson sequence). OBC
Bird Base: Heteroglaux blewitti
34. The Internet Bird Collection -
Typical Owls (Strigidae)
35. Bird Forum -
Oriental Bird Images
37. WildIndia -
Forest Owlet by Raju
Narmada Valley dry deciduous forests
(IM0207): World Wildlife Fund 2001
39. Animal Diversity Web -
40. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds by Les Christidis, Walter
History and Classification' of Owls
42. Eugene W. Oates (1889-98). The fauna of British India, including Ceylon
43. Rithe K. (2004)
Yawal - Jewel in the crown of the Khandesh
44. Delhibird; Species Guide:
45. Raju Kasambe, pers. comm. 1/11/09