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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 Andes.

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.

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.)


Wikipedia: Ferruginous Pygmy-owl Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Biology
Blue Planet Biomes: Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
USGS: Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum
Ninepipes Wildlife Research Center: Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Borges, S. H. et al (2004) Density and habitat use by owls in two Amazonian forest types. Journal of Field Ornithology 75: 176-182
US Fish and Wildlife Service: Cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum)
ITIS Report: Glaucidium brasilianum (Taxonomy)

Mainly photos
Flickr: Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
The Owl Pages: Ferruginous Pygmy Owl Glaucidium brasilianum
World Birding Center: Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Internet Bird Collection (videos): Glaucidium brasilianum

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