Flammulated Owl

Otus flammeolus

Judd Patterson, Utah Fish & Wildlife
  • Owls
  • 37,000

A small owl, this species has a rather wide but patchy distribution in the mountains of the western U.S. Some authorities think the species may be more closely related to Old World Scops owls rather than the North American screech-owls because its song shares more similarities with the Old World group. Like many owls this species is in need of much further research to better understand its ecology, population dynamics, distribution, and status but it is though to be declining from certain forest management practices within its western range.

A brightly colored relative of North American screech-owls, the Flammulated Owl is more often heard "cooing" than it is seen. Similar looking to typical screech-owls, the Flammulated has buffy-orange tones to the face and wings and is the only small owl in its range that has dark eyes.

Distribution and Population Trends
Widely scattered across the mountains of western North America, its breeding range extends from southern British Columbia to northern Mexico. Flammulated Owls are migratory and winter from Mexico south to Guatemala.

Further knowledge of specific habitat requirements is needed before analysis of trends can be fully understood. To date, scientists are uncertain of this species' status. Its secretive nature and widely scattered distribution make it very difficult to gauge population trends for this species. It is believed, however, that the population is declining due to increased habitat loss from forestry practices in the mountain west.

A bird of the mountain forests, apparently preferring areas with ponderosa pine intermixed with oaks or aspens and with shrubby undergrowth. An insect eater, this small owl often grabs prey from leaves with its talons while hovering. Nests are in tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers. Sometimes has been known to use nest boxes. Female lays 2 - 3 eggs and is fed by the male during incubation. Young fledge within 25 days and tend to split up with one of two parents. For another month, each parent independently cares for 1 or 2 of the young.

Most believe the biggest human-induced threat to be from logging. Flammulated Owls have one of the slowest reproductive rates of North American owls. Further study is needed to better understand the breeding biology of these owls.

To date, there has been little effort to manage for this species. Further study is needed regarding the bird's specific habitat needs before management policies can be created. Also, further study is needed to determine the effectiveness of nest boxes in management plans.

What Can You Do?
Audubon's Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Flammulated Owls as well as other species. To learn more about the Important Bird Area programs in states with breeding populations of Flammulated Owl, and how you can help, visit: http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/

CIPAMEX, Audubon's BirdLife International partner in Mexico, has an Important Bird Areas program that is working to protect wintering habitat for Flammulated Owls and many other species. To learn more about Mexico's Important Bird Areas program and how you can help visit:

Information on where Flammulated Owls occur and in what numbers is vital to conserving the species. Help in monitoring this and other species by reporting your sightings to eBird. A project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is the world's first comprehensive on-line bird monitoring program: http://www.audubon.org/bird/ebird/index.html.

Audubon and our partners in conservation coordinated the submission of over two million comments to the U.S. Forest Service in support of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which would protect habitat for Flammulated Owl and many other species. Unfortunately, implementation of the Rule has been stalled and attempts are being made to weaken it. To help in protecting these vital habitats visit: http://www.audubon.org/campaign/latestnews.html#roadless

McCallum, D. A. 1994. Flammulated Owl (Otus flammeolus). In The Birds of North America, No. 93 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.

Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Konig, C., F. Weick, and J. Becking. 1999. Owls A Guide to the Owls of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.