Forest Owlets are still categorised under ‘Endangered’ birds: Report

Forest Owlets are still categorised under ‘Endangered’ birds: Report

PUNE: Initially, thought to be extinct for a long time, the Forest Owlets resurfaced in the radars of bird watchers around two decades ago. 

However, as per the recently released State of India’s Birds 2020 report, the species, which is endemic to Maharashtra among other states, has been still categorised under ‘Endangered’ birds. 

In fact, the Forest Owlets are amongst the 101 species of ‘high conservation concern’ as stated by the report.

“The Forest Owlets were first discovered in 1872. However, as there were no records of the bird’s spotting after 1878, the bird was thought to be extinct until 1997, when it was spotted again. Until 2017, the bird was deemed ‘critically extinct’,” said Prof Pankaj Koparde who has carried out his PhD on Owlets.

After 2017, owing to surveys and records found on the number of the owlets, the status of the bird was changed to that of ‘endangered’.

“While a more efficient conservation of the species is essential, we should see it as a positive sign that Forest Owlets have been rediscovered after having thought to be extinct. These owlets have been known to be closely associated with men, the Korku tribe of Melghat has been sharing habitat with the Forest Owlets. Also, the area of sightings seems to have widened this time,” said ornithologist Satish Pande, who is the founder-president of Ela Foundation.

As per reports by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Bird Life International, there are between 250 to 1,000 recorded Forest Owlets in India.

While dry deciduous forests, mainly teak dominated forests, are the main habitats of the Forest Owlets, deforestation and forest fires have time and again caused habitat loss for the species.

“Teak dominated forests have a high probability of forest fires, moreover, there are some deliberate fires also. Timber extraction also leads to large scale deforestation in these forests,” said Koparde.

Along with habitat loss, hunting is also one of the prominent reasons behind the dwindling population of the bird.

“Forest Owlets are hunted to be used for superstitious purposes in black magic activities where their skulls and eggs are used. Further, the bird is also often hunted for meat,” Koparde added.

Pande also stated that the Forest Owlets also have to face stringent competition from Spotted Owlets when it comes to food. While the bird feeds on rodents (rats, other small mammals), rodenticides usually end up poisoning the owlets too.

Apart from Amravati, the owlets have also been spotted in Dhule, Nashik and Thane districts as well. However, while deemed endangered in the State of India’s Birds report, there is not enough data available in the report to determine the extent of decline or accurate numbers.

“The sightings of these birds are quite rare, however, they are relatively easy to spot. They are crepuscular (which means they are active during twilight hours). The birds are also usually found perching on open branches of trees. We need to find more efficient ways to identify them,” Pande added.

Koparde also stated that the record of the sighting of the bird, in fact all owlet species, is relatively low, as most bird watchers usually spot it during daytime, mostly mornings.

A forest dwelling bird found mostly in dry deciduous forests, the Forest Owlets, over the period of time, have a restricted habitat in Central India only, owing to climate change. Its overall population is less than any other species of owlets. The bird is unique, it makes a sweet, distinguishable sound, which is different from that of other owlets. It is estimated that the ongoing climate change will further affect the species adversely.
(As told to Sakal Times by Pankaj Koparde)

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