Owls worldwide vary little in overall appearance, typically with large heads, feathered faces, and large
forward-facing eyes. What sets the ferruginous pygmy owl (Glaucidium brasilianum) apart is its tiny
size. It's about 6 inches from head to tail, about half the size of the well-known barn owl (Tyto
alba). It lacks ear tufts, which are twin crests of feathers possessed by a number of owls.
On the back of the head are two distinct dark patches resembling eyes, and often called false eyes. The
function is not certain, but they may be to fool predators, which would otherwise attack the owl from behind.
The main plumage is usually grayish brown or reddish, in two distinct color phases. Streaks of light-covered
feathers streak the crown, whereas the wings are similarly spotted. Its eyes are yellow. Distinguishing from
other owls, broad streaks of reddish brown fleck the underside, especially on the sides. Five or six white
bars mark the tail feathers.
This species might be confused with two other small owls, the least pygmy owl (G. minutissimum) and
the Andean pygmy owl (G. jardinii), but these owls are not found in lowland rainforest east of the
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
The ferruginous pygmy owl is the smallest species of owl found in its range. It is widespread east of the
Andes, found north to the southwest United States and south to northern Chile and Argentina. It is
relatively common in drier forested areas, and on the edges of tropical rainforest. In the north and south
of its range, it inhabits desert regions, where its populations are grouped into subspecies.
FEEDING AND DIET
This species hunts day or night, although during daylight smaller birds often mob it. The bird is an
opportunistic predator, mostly feeding on various invertebrates such as grasshoppers, crickets,
caterpillars, other large insects and scorpions. It also preys on small mammals, lizards, and frogs.
The ferruginous pygmy owl nests in tree holes or finds cavities in old termite nests. Such nests are 10 to 40
feet (3 to 12 meters) high. Recorded nesting periods are seasonal, from March to July. The female lays from two to five
white eggs. She incubates the eggs that hatch after about a month. The male fetches food for the female
while she is on the nest. After the young hatch, both adults bring food to the chicks. Depending on food
supply, the later hatching or smaller hatchlings may die due to brood competition over food. About 28 days
after hatching, the young fledge, whereupon the adults care for the young for another three weeks.
This is a relatively common owl and is not in danger of extinction across much of its range. Localized
populations in the United States are endangered, but the species was delisted in 2006 due to political
pressure from developers. (Read the court
ruling, 72K PDF.)