Forest Owlet, Melghat Tiger Reserve

Samyak Kaninde
Samyak Kaninde

Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'

The Forest Owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti) was first described in 1873 and last seen in the wild in 1884. Subsequently, it was considered extinct. The bird was rediscovered 113 years later in 1997 in Central India by Pamela Rasmussen.

This bird is almost as mythical as the Phoenix!

During a recent trip to Melghat, I had a memorable experience with this extremely rare bird. I saw three individuals, which helped me understand the differences between the sexes. It was fascinating to watch their bobbing heads and flicking tails!

The Forest Owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti) was first described in 1873 and last seen in the wild in 1884. Subsequently, it was considered extinct. The bird was rediscovered 113 years later in 1997 in Central India by Pamela Rasmussen.

Today, the bird is Critically Endangered as per the current IUCN Red List category. According to BirdLife, this species has a tiny, severely fragmented population, known from fewer than 12 recent locations. It is likely to be declining as a result of loss of its deciduous forest habitat. Although surveys continue to discover more individuals, these factors lead to its present classification as Critically Endangered. Further information may warrant its downlisting to a lower category of threat in future.

Mostly seen now in the Satpura range, Melghat Tiger Reserve is the one of the best places to see this bird. Being diurnal, it is easy to see this bird during daytime unlike other owls that are active at night. It feeds mostly on lizards, rodents, and, occasionally, on small birds. It is usually seen sitting on tree tops scanning its surroundings for prey.

A current controversy is raging about a proposed scientific research on the bird that involves physical trapping. Former forest officials, conservationists and NGOs have criticised the ministry of environment and forests’ (MoEF) decision to allow capture of 20 forest owlets in east and west Melghat divisions outside Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR).



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