Critically-endangered Forest Owlet spotted near Mumbai

Critically-endangered Forest Owlet spotted near Mumbai

In what comes as good news for bird lovers and ornithologists, critically-endangered Forest Owlet, which was endemic to the Satpura mountain ranges in central India, has now been spotted in Western Ghats by naturalists associated with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

The elusive bird was recently spotted in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary in Palghar district, some 100 km from downtown Mumbai. Tansa is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) based on  earlier studies carried out by BNHS.

This discovery is significant and more studies are required to identify its presence in other similar habitats in drier parts of northern Western Ghats. For nearly 113 years, Forest Owlet was considered to be extinct, until researchers rediscovered it in 1997 in Toranmal Reserve Forest near Shahada in the Satpura ranges in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra. 

Later studies established its presence across Satpura ranges from Piplod in Gujarat and Toranmal to Yawal and Melghat in Maharashtra and Kalibhit in Madhya Pradesh. 

Historically the species was also known to occur in some areas of Odisha and Chhattisgarh. It has never been reported south of Tapi River until now.

In an era when forests everywhere and in Western Ghats in particular are vanishing or getting degraded, the new discovery of Forest Owlet (Scientific name: Heteroglaux blewitti, earlier called Athene blewitti) – a critically-endangered bird according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List – brings new hope about the survival of biodiversity. 

In October this year, former BNHS employee and naturalist Sunil Laad, along with his companions, spotted the Forest Owlet seated on a dry tree in the morning. The bird was clearly differentiated from the commonly found Spotted Owlet (Scientific name: Athene brama) due to its unspotted crown, complete collar on breast, dark primaries and broadly banded tail. 

Commenting on this discovery, Dr Asad Rahmani, Director, BNHS said, “I am extremely delighted... I hope the authorities will take proper steps to protect the Forest Owlet in Tansa.”

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