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  SPECIES GUIDE >> BARN OWLS AND OWLETS
 
 
     
 
 
    Barn Owls and Owlets - Part III  
 
 
     
   Vijay Cavale (June 2004)  
     
 
In this concluding part of our three part series, we look at the remaining species of owls found in India, the barn, pygmy and little owls. This completes the entire list of owls recorded in India.

The family Tytonidae consists of the Barn, Grass and Bay Owls. Members of this family have their inner toe equal in length to that of the middle toe. The Barn and Grass Owls are rather long legged with long wings and short tails. The Bay Owls are relatively small.

 
Barn Owl Tyto alba
coyright; Vijay Cavale 2003
 
 
 
    Barn Owl Tyto alba
 
 
 
 

Size:

  34 cms
 
     
  A fairly common, pale, medium sized, nocturnal owl with heart-shaped facial disc and small black eyes. They have relatively long legs and no ear-tufts. They can look completely white in artificial light, as in street lamps or car headlights. The flight is low and wavering, often with the feet dangling. Worldwide, more then 30 subspecies have been described. These owls prefer cultivation near human settlements and are often found in cities. The call is an extended and wild shriek while young in the nest make a snoring sound. It feeds mainly on small mammals such as mice and rats and a favourite haunt is therefore grain storage depots. This is mainly a nocturnal species so it is easily overlooked even though they often nest in inhabited buildings. The constant noise in modern cities means that the calls are not often picked up. The adults pair for life.
 
     
 
Barn Owl Tyto alba
coyright; R Vijaykumar Thondaman & Clement Francis
 
Barn Owl Tyto alba
coyright; Sumit Sen
 
     
 
 
    Andaman Masked Owl Tyto deroepstorffi
 
 
 
 

Size:

  34 cms
 
     
  Endemic to the South Andamans and recently split from the Barn Owl based on two skins known. Said to be brighter in colour with upperparts greyish-brown with chocolate-brown patches and orange-buff spots. Underparts golden-buff with tiny triangular spots. The feet have more powerful talons. Its current status is unknown and further investigations are required to confirm its taxonomic standing. The photograph, by Ron Saldino, is considered by some experts to be of this species. It was taken in the Andamans and certainly appears to show several of the known characteristics (especially the powerful feet). If this proves to be correct then the illustrations in current field guides are not accurate.
 
     
 
Andaman Masked Owl Tyto deroepstorffi
copyright Ron Saldino
 
     
 
 
    Eastern Grass Owl Tyto longimembris
 
 
 
 

Size:

  38-42 cms
 
     
  A medium sized, long-legged barn owl with lower half of tarsi unfeathered. It is very similar in plumage to the Barn Owl but much darker above and larger. The call is similar. Prefers open grassland with tall grass. Nocturnal, but sometimes flies during daytime when it might be confused with the Short-eared Owl. Rare and localized with most of the scattered records from the eastern and southern parts of the country. Mice and rats are the favoured prey. Nests on ground.
 
     
 
Eastern Grass Owl Tyto longimembris
 
     
 
 
    Bay Owl Phodilus badius  
 
 
 

Size:

  22-33 cms
 
     
  A medium sized, stocky owl with short rounded wings. Looks somewhat like a small, short-legged Barn Owl but with longer face, rudimentary ear tufts and a pinkish ground coloration and darker, brighter brown back. Prefers dense evergreen forests. Strictly nocturnal. Feeds on small rodents, bats, lizards and large insects. Exceedingly rare and seldom reported with all reliable records from the north east, south west and Sri Lanka.  
     
 
Bay Owl Phodilus badius
 
     
 
 
     
  The Pygmy Owls (Genus Glaucidium) are very small owls with rounded head without ear-tufts and with yellow eyes.  
   
 
Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum copyright @ Vijav Cavalle; 2002
 
     
 
 
    Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei  
 
 
 

Size:

  15 cms
 
     
  Also called the Collared Pygmy Owlet, this is a very small owl with a light brown face and white supercilium. From behind, the collar together with a back spot on each side of the nape, look deceptively like a staring owl face (occipital face). This short tailed owlet is heavily barred grey or brown with a white throat, centre breast and belly. No contrasting rufous on wings. It is noisy while breeding, with the call being a liquid po..poop…poop. Often a diurnal bird and may even be seen flying in midday sunshine. Prefers thick forest at the lower elevations. Feeds on small birds, mice, lizards and insects. It is often mobbed by diurnal birds but rarely flies far.
 
     
 

Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei copyright Arun P. Singh; 4 June 2006; Dhanaulty,Nr Mussoorie

 
     
 
Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei copyright Arun P Singh
 
     
 
 
    Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum  
 
 
 

Size:

  20 cms
 
     
  A small resident owlet found with yellow irises throughout India. Dark brown in colour with heavy rufous and white barring. The wings are barred rufous and black. The moustache, front collar, central breast patch and vent are white. The call is a noisy accelerating musical kuo kar kuo kak. Prefers secondary jungle. Largely crepuscular. Seen sunbathing and hunting during daytime. Roosts in foliage but readily flies, if discovered, showing short tail and rounded wings. Prefers to feed on insects and nests in tree hole.
 
     
 
Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum
copyright Sumit Sen
 
Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum
copyright Sujan
 
     
 
 
    Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides  
 
 
 

Size:

  23cm
 
     
  A small round-headed owlet, resembling Jungle Owlet, but larger. The two species may occur together in the lower foothills. Is heavily barred brown on buff underparts with no contrasting rufous in wings. This is the safest field distinction. Heavily and broadly barred on breast and flanks with streaking on lower flanks. Shows white on throat and central underparts. Has a relatively long tail. The call is a bubbling wowowowowowowowow which gets deeper and louder. Undulating flight. Prefers hill forests. Largely diurnal often found sitting in the open in full sunlight. Feeds chiefly on large insects.  
     
 
Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides
copyright Sumit Sen
 
     
  The Little Owls (Genus Athene) are small owls without ear-tufts. Wings rounded and tail short.  
     
 
 
    Little Owl Athene noctua  
 
 
 

Size:

  19 - 25 cms
 
     
  A small, relatively long legged, chunky owl with short tail, flat head and indistinct facial disc. Brown with white spots. Two sub-species are found in the sub-continent. The western Ludlow’s Owl A.n. ludlowi is larger and darker while the eastern Hutton’s Owl A.n. bactriana is paler. The call is an accelerating musical kuo..kak kuo kak. Found in open country, cultivated lands near human settlements, deserts and semi deserts. Most active at dusk. Prefers to feed on insects but will also take small birds, mammals and reptiles.
 
     
 
Hutton's Owl
 
Ludlow's Owl copyright Otto Pfister; 1996
 
     
 
 
    Spotted Owlet Athene brama  
 
 
 

Size:

  21 cms
 
     
  A small squat, white-spotted (rather than barred) owlet with round head and yellow eyes. Has pale facial discs and hind collar. The birds in North India are paler grey-brown than the nominate race of South India. Resident, found throughout India. Our commonest and most frequently seen owl which is found over much of the sub-continent, except for parts of northeast and the northwest. The call is a loud, harsh chiurr…chiurr….chiurr…. followed with a cheevak cheevak. Often calls in unison. Well adapted to human establishments and often tolerant of human beings where it is not persecuted. Largely crepuscular and nocturnal. Usually found in pairs or family groups. Feeds on insects, mice, lizards and small birds.
 
     
 
Spotted Owlet Athene brama copyright Sumit Sen
 
Spotted Owlet Athene brama copyright Vijay Cavale
 
     
 
 
    Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewitti  
 
 
 

Size:

  23 cms
 
     
  Recently assigned its own, monospecific, genus. A poorly known small owl similar to the Spotted Owlet but heavier with different markings. Only known from a few sites in the north western peninsula. Rediscovered after 113 years in 1997 in north Maharashtra. Has heavily feathered legs and large claws. Lacks white collar of the Spotted. The crown, nape and mantle are grey-brown. Found in dry and humid deciduous forest. Largely diurnal. One record of it feeding on a medium sized lizard. Its calls are not fully documented but Krys records them as “ a sweet, medium pitched ou-hu and a flat, buzzing kheek;kweek…kweek”
 
     
 
Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewitti
 
     
 
Reference:

A Guide to Owls of the World
Claus Konig, Friedhelm Weick & Jan-Hendrik Becking (Pica Press)

A Sound Guide to the Owls of the World
Richard Ranft and Klaus Konig (The British Library National Sound Archive)

Delhibird would like to thank all the photographers who have so graciously agreed to let us use their photographs.

Text: Vijay Cavale

General Editors: Bikram Grewal & Bill Harvey

Email your comments to devasar@gmail.com
 
Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum copyright Mike Prince 2003
 
 
 
  See also:  
  Large Owl Part I
Owls of India - Part II
 
     
     
 

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