Congo Bay-owl Phodilus prigoginei


Justification of Red List Category
This poorly-known species is undoubtedly very rare and has a very small known range. It appears to have very specific habitat requirements and, while a large area of its habitat remains, forest clearance and degradation are likely to be causing declines in range and numbers. It therefore qualifies as Endangered.

Population justification
The population is estimated at 9,360 (10 individuals/km2 [population densiy of Oriental Bay-owl P. badius in BirdLife Population Density Spreadsheet] × 936 km2 [20% EOO]), i.e. within the range 2,500-9,999 mature individuals, and likely to be at the lower end due to specific habitat requirements. This equates to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
This species is suspected to be in decline owing to the continuing destruction and degradation of its habitat. The likely rate of decline, however, has not been estimated.

Distribution and population

Phodilus prigoginei had not been recorded since the type-specimen was collected in 1951 at Muusi, in the Itombwe Mountains, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), until its rediscovery in 1996, when a female was mist-netted in the extreme south-east corner of Itombwe Forest (Butynski et al. 1997, Omari et al. 1999). This rediscovery extends the species's known range southwards by c.95 km and lowers its altitudinal range by approximately 600 m (Butynski et al. 1997). Itombwe is not the only forest in central Africa with a large area of highland forest/grassland habitat, and it is possible the species occurs elsewhere, especially in Nyungwe Forest (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 1999). There is a possible sighting in Burundi from 1974 and, in 1990, calls of an unidentified owl were tape-recorded in Nyungwe Forest, Rwanda (Dowsett-Lemaire 1990). Recent surveys of Kibira and Mt Kabogo, in which this species was targeted, were unsuccessful (A. Plumptre in litt. 2007).


The record in 1951 was at 2,430 m, in a grass clearing. The 1996 rediscovery was in montane gallery forest at 1,830 m, where the slopes are covered with grass and bush and the lower slopes and valleys with montane forest (Butynski et al. 1997). The species would appear to require a mosaic of grassland and either montane or bamboo forest, and was netted in a slightly disturbed area, indicating that it may tolerate some human activity (Butynski et al. 1997).


Forest clearance for smallholder agriculture is a serious threat in Itombwe, where a maize blight since the early 1990s has reduced yields and forced farmers to clear forest for new farms (Omari et al. 1999). Gallery forest on the central savanna plateau, including the locality where the species was rediscovered, is being degraded as a result (Omari et al. 1999). Clearance of forest for livestock-grazing, particularly at higher altitudes, is also a threat (Omari et al. 1999).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. Itombwe Forest has recently been gazetted as a community reserve, although the boundaries still need to be defined (A. Plumptre in litt. 2007).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys to determine the range and population of the species (Butynski et al. 1997). The tape of the mystery owl in Nyungwe (most probably Phodilus) has been deposited with the British Library, and this ought to be used in the field in Nyungwe to search for this species, and elsewhere, including the Itombwe (F. Dowsett-Lemaire and R. J. Dowsett in litt. 2016). Research its ecology (Butynski et al. 1997). Facilitate conservation action in collaboration with traditional authorities to limit further habitat degradation (Omari et al. 1999).


23-29 cm. Extremely beautiful, rich chestnut-brown owl. Only female ever described. Rusty-brown above with paler, orangey underparts. Compact and oval facial disc with dark eyes. Voice Possibly long, mournful whistles (but requires confirmation).


Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Khwaja, N., Shutes, S., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.

Plumptre, A., Dowsett, R.J., Dowsett-Lemaire, F.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Phodilus prigoginei. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/08/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 17/08/2022.