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Flammulated Owl - Otus flammeolus

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Calls - Otus flammeolus
Typical call Klamath Mountains, Northwest California, USA. © Bruce Marcot

Introduction: The Flammulated Owl is a small owl with cryptic plumage and small ear-tufts. There are rufous and greyish morphs, as well as intermediates. The species name "flammeolus" is Latin for "flame-coloured", refering to its unique colouration. Some authors put this owl in its own genus: Psiloscops. They have also been called the Flammulated Scops Owl, Dwarf Owl and Flammulated Screech Owl.

[For help with terms used in the description, see parts of an owl. For general characteristics common to most owl species, see owl physiology.]

Description: The facial disc is greyish-brown, washed with pale chestnut or rusty-brown. The rim is dark chestnut to blackish-brown. Eyes are dark brown. the bill is greyish-brown, the cere being similar in colour. There are small, erectile ear-tufts. Upperparts are crytic greyish-brown with fine blackish mottles and shaft-streaks. Scapulars have large rusty-tinged areas forming orange-buff scapular stripe. Flight feathers and tail have contrasting light and dark bars. Underparts are greyish-brown, mottled light and dark with rusty spots and blackish shaft-streaks. Legs are feathered greyish-brown to the base of the toes. Toes are greyish-brown and claws blackish-brown.

Size: Length 16-17cm. Wing length 133-149mm. Tail length 59-67mm. Weight 45-63g.

Habits: A nocturnal bird, with main activity just after darkness falls, and sometimes at dawn. Roosts by day close to tree trunk where it is well camouflaged, resembling a broken branch. They live in pairs.

Voice: The main call is a relatively deep woop with ventriloquial effect, repeated at regular intervals of about 2-3 seconds. The call is often preceded by one or two preliminary, lower-pitched 'grace' notes. A similar mating or courtship call is a two-syllable boo-boot call, given at about 1.5 second intervals. When alarmed, this owl will produce notes sounding somewhat like the meowing of a kitten.

Hunting & Food: Feeds mainly on nocturnal insects and spiders, likely caught in the air or among foliage, but also on the ground or large branches. The most common prey are beetles, moths, grasshoppers and crickets, with caterpillars, other insects, centipedes, spiders, scorpions and other arachnids also taken.

Breeding: Breeds in spring. Males sing from their territories to attract females. Sometimes several pairs may nest close to one another, so that borders of territories overlap. A tree cavity is used for a nest, usually one produced by a woodpecker. They also accept nestboxes. 2-4 white, rounded eggs are laid directly on the dry material on the bottom of the cavity. The female incubates alone and is fed by the male. Incubation begins with the first egg, and lasts 3-4 weeks. After hatching, the young are fed by both parents, and leave the nest after about 3-5 weeks. Both parents continue to care for them for a further 4-5 weeks, after which, the young disperse.

Habitat: Open coniferous mountain forest, especially with ponderosa and yellow pines, quite often mixed with oak or aspen. Habitats generally characterised by brushy undergrowth. Also occupies mixed forest with Douglas fir. Habitats range from 400 to 3000 metres in elevation.

Distribution: North America from British Columbia south along the Rocky Mountains to Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. It is only a Summer visitor in the northern parts of this range, migrating south in Autumn in order to Winter in warmer climates.

Distribution of Flammulated Owl - Otus flammeolus
Distribution of the Flammulated Owl Otus flammeolus

Status: Generally uncommon, but frequent in some areas.

Original Description: Kaup, Johannes Jacob. 1852. In W. Jardine (ed.), Contributions to Ornithology for 1848-52, p. 111.

Subspecies: O. f. flammeolus, O. f. idahoensis, O. f. rarus


Boyer and Hume. 1991. "Owls of the World". BookSales Inc
Duncan, James R. 2003. "Owls of the World: Their Lives, Behavior and Survival". Firefly Books
Johnsgard, Paul A. 2002. "North American Owls: Biology and Natural History". Smithsonian
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". Yale University Press
König, Weick and Becking. 1999. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World". Yale University Press
Long, Kim. 1998. "Owls: A Wildlife Handbook". Johnson Books
Tyler, Hamilton A. & Phillips, Don. 1994. "Owls by Day and Night". Naturegraph

Page Information:

Page compiled by . Page last updated 2013-07-12 Owl Species ID: 030.260.000

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