The Owl Pages

Chestnut-backed Owlet ~ Glaucidium castanotum (Taenioglaux castano[no]ta)


The Chestnut-backed Owlet is a very small owl with no ear-tufts. Some authors spell the specific castanonotum

Photo Gallery (4 pictures)

  • Chestnut-backed Owlet
  • Chestnut-backed Owlet
  • Chestnut-backed Owlet
  • Chestnut-backed Owlet

Sound Gallery

Typical call - Kitulgala, Kegalle, Sri Lanka. April 2015. CC Peter Ericsson.


Description: The facial disc is indistinct. Eyes are bright yellow. The cere is dusky greenish white the bill is yellowish or greenish-horn. The mantle and the back are bright chestnut, with a few blackish bars. There are narrow rufous-ochre bars on the dark brown head. The scapulars have whitish outer webs with blackish borders. There is a large white area on the neck. The upper breast is barred dark brown and ochre, forming a pectoral band beneath the white patch on the neck. The lower breast, belly and flanks are streaked blackish on a white ground colour. Tarsi are feathered and the yellowish-olive toes are sparsely bristled. Claws are dark horn.

Size: Length 17-19cm. Wing length 122-137mm. Tail length 56-70mm. Weight around 100g. Females are larger and heavier than males.

Habits: The chestnut-backed Owlet is a diurnal bird, often hunting and calling in daylight. It is shy and wary, and is seldom seen. It frequents the tops of high trees, usually on steep hillsides.

Voice: The song of the male is a long, musical, purring vibrato series of kwurr notes: kwurrkwurrkwurrkwurr at about 2.5 notes per second. Each phrase consists of 4-9 notes, beginning softly and increasing in volume until breaking off.

Hunting & Food: These owls feed mainly on insects such as beetles, but also take mice, small birds, and small reptiles. Larger vertebrate prey may be taken when feeding young.

Breeding: Nests are holes in trees or coconut palms, mostly made by woodpeckers or barbets. Nesting season is from March to May. The female lays two oval eggs around 35 x 28mm.

Habitat: Dense forest in the humid zones of Sri Lanka, and the western slopes of hills up to around 1950m above sea level.

Distribution: Endemic to Sri Lanka.

Range of Chestnut-backed Owlet (Glaucidium castanotum)
Range of the Chestnut-backed Owlet Glaucidium castanotum

Status: Threatened by dwindling habitat. Listed as 'Near Threatened' by Birdlife International.

Original Description: Blyth, Edward. 1850. The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (J. Asiat. Soc. Bengal) 19: p. 511.

References: (may contain affiliate links)
BirdLife International. 2020. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species". IUCN.
Boyer and Hume. 1991. "Owls of the World". BookSales Inc.
del Hoyo, Elliott & Sargatal. 1999. "Handbook of the Birds of the World: Barn Owls to Hummingbirds". Buteo Books.
Dickinson, E.C., Jones, C. & David, N.. 2009. "The correct spelling, date and citation for the Chestnut-backed Owlet of Sri Lanka". Indian Birds 5(2): 52-53.
International Ornithological Congress. 2023. "IOC World Bird List - Owls".
König, Claus & Weick, Friedhelm. 2008. "Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World (Second Edition)". Yale University Press.
Voous, Karel H.. 1988. "Owls of the Northern Hemisphere". The MIT Press.
Glaucidium castanotum at Xeno-canto.

See also: Other owls from Asia, Genus: Glaucidium.

Page by Deane Lewis. Last updated 2020-10-31. Copyright Information.