Justification of Red List Category
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.
The population is estimated to number 50-249 mature individuals based on the number of records from known sites, with c. 100 individuals now recorded from Melghat Tiger Reserve. This estimate is equivalent to 75-374 individuals in total, rounded here to 70-400 individuals. Given the increasing number of records and sites known within its range it may prove to be more common than previous evidence has suggested.
The species faces a number of threats which in combination are suspected to be causing a decline at a rate of 10-19% over ten years.
Heteroglaux blewitti is endemic to central India. Until its rediscovery in 1997, it was only known from seven specimens collected during the 19th century at four localities in two widely separated areas, north-western Maharashtra (G. Jathar in litt. 2012), and south-east Madhya Pradesh/western Orissa. In 2000, a survey of 14 forest areas across its former range located 25 birds at four sites in northern Maharashtra and south-western Madhya Pradesh, including three pairs at Taloda Forest Range and seven pairs at Toranmal Forest Range. Further surveys in 2004 found 12 adults and 7 fledglings in Toranmal but no birds were found in Taloda (Jathar and Rahmani 2004), and following surveys in 2005 and 2006 also reported a pair of birds at Toranmal Forest Range (Jathar and Rahmani 2006, Jathar and Patil 2011, G. Jathar in litt. 2012). Further surveys on the Toranmal Forest Range in November 2009 revealed that only two of the seven territories remain (G. Jathar in litt. 2010). A further study in 2010-2011 surveying known localities in Taloda and Toranmal Forest Ranges found no birds in Taloda and only one pair in Toranmal despite intensive surveying over two seasons (Jathar and Patil 2011). No birds were found in a brief survey of its former eastern range in Orissa, or in north-east Andhra Pradesh (Mehta et al. 2007, Anon. 2009).
In 2003, survey effort in the Satpura Range (Maharashtra) located another five sites with a total of nine birds (Rithe 2003), indicating that the species may prove to be widespread but previously overlooked in the western Satpura Mountains, and in 2006, 24 birds were found in two sites in Burhanpur and one site in Khandwa (Mehta et al. 2007). By 2005, over 100 individuals had been recorded in Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra (Kasambe et al. 2005), which is now recognised as the species's stronghold. The species has also been found breeding nearby at Yawal Wildlife Sanctuary (Chavan and Rithe 2009), however recent surveys found no Forest Owlet in this area (Bombay Natural History Society 2013). The species was recently recorded in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra (Laad and Degale 2014). Modelling suggests that its remaining range is severely fragmented, and only c.10% is protected (G. Jathar in litt. 2010). Although there is some confusion over its former abundance, evidence strongly suggests it has always been scarce.
It appears to be a sedentary resident with recent sightings from fairly open dry deciduous forest dominated by teak Tectona grandis (Ishtiaq et al. 2002). Along with teak, a ground cover of weed like wild basil and grasses is typical of the known owlet sites (D. Patil in litt. 2012). It was rediscovered at 460 m and other known locations are at 400-700 m (G. Jathar in litt. 2012). Most historical records came from moist deciduous forest or dense jungle, the altitudinal range of which is unclear, although most specimens were collected in plains forest. This suggests that the recent observations from hill slopes may represent birds in suboptimal habitat. It appears to be quite strongly diurnal and fairly easy to detect, frequently perching on prominent bare branches. Lizards, small rodents, nestlings of other birds, grasshoppers, frogs and caterpillars are all prey items (Ishtiaq et al. 2002, Kasambe et al. 2005), which are often cached in hollow tree trunks (Ishtiaq et al. 2002). It appears to partition resources with the similar and widespread Spotted Owlet Athene brama (Kasambe et al. 2005). It breeds between October and May, laying a brood of two eggs (Ishtiaq and Rahmani 2005) in a hole in a softwood tree, and can re-lay if its first nesting attempt fails. At one nest, the young fledged at 30-32 days, after which they were dependent on the parents for at least another 40-45 days (Ishtiaq et al. 2002).
Given its rarity, identification of threats is difficult. Forest in its range is being lost and degraded by illegal tree cutting for firewood and timber, and encroachment for cultivation, grazing and settlements (Ishtiaq et al. 2002, Chavan and Rithe 2009), as well as forest fires and minor irrigation dams (Chavan and Rithe 2009). The site of its initial discovery in 1872 (Chhattisgarh) has completely been encroached by agriculture (D. Patil in litt. 2012). Large areas of forest in the Yawal Wildlife Sanctuary and Yawal Forest Division as well as the Aner Wildlife Sanctuary and the Satpuda mountain ranges in Maharashtra have recently been subject to encroachment leading to habitat loss for this species (Nannaware 2014). It is likely that other forest areas where it occurs are under similarly intense pressure. Overgrazing by cattle may reduce habitat suitability (Jathar 2003). The proposed Upper Tapi Irrigation Project threatens 244 ha of prime habitat used by the species (Kasambe et al. 2004). It suffers predation from a number of native raptors, limiting productivity, and it faces competition for a limited number of nesting cavities (Jathar 2003, Ishtiaq and Rahmani 2005). The species is hunted by local people and body parts and eggs are used for local customs, such as the making of drums (Jathar 2003, Jathar and Rahmani undated). Pesticides and rodenticides are used to an unknown degree within its range and may pose an additional threat (Jathar 2003).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. Since its rediscovery in 1997, fieldwork has been conducted to study its status, ecology and threats. Interventions have been made to seek the prevention of further forest losses at the site of rediscovery. Over 100 individuals have been seen in the protected Melghat Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra (Kasambe et al. 2005), and it has been recorded in Toranmal Reserve Forest, Khaknar Reserve Forest and Yawal Wildlife Sanctuary. Further surveys in 2009 in the Melghat Tiger Reserve indicate that the park is well protected (G. Jathar in litt. 2010). An education and awareness programme has been initiated. A recent survey was carried out in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in 2010 and 2011 (Jathar and Patil 2011). A recovery plan is being worked on (D. Patil in litt. 2012). A long-term project to investigate the impact of timber harvesting on the species in Madhya Pradesh has been initiated (P. Mehta in litt. 2013).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Prevent illicit wood-cutting and hunting of wildlife in forests within the species's range (Ishtiaq and Rahmani 2005). Advocate suitable forest management practices including controlled grazing and appropriate control of forest fires (Bombay Natural History Society 2013). Conduct surveys in remaining suitable habitat, particularly sites in the 800 km gap between the east/west limits of the historical records, to establish its total range, current distribution and population status, habitat use, and to assess its main threats. Potential habitat should be searched at Orissa and Chhattisgarh particularly. Research its relationship with both invasive and potentially problematic native species (D. Patil in litt. 2012). Provide support to the education and awareness-raising programme among local communities to promote the value and importance of this species and convey its potential benefits. Promote ecotourism. Control the use of pesticides and rodenticides. Use nest site protection to avoid destruction of nests. Initiate a number of forest management measures and establish community reserves within its range (Rahmani and Jathar 2004, G. Jathar in litt. 2012), with Khaknar and Toranmal being priority sites for protection. Train forest staff in conservation. Use watershed development to stabilise the species's habitat. Publicise conservation among local young people (D. Patil in litt. 2012). Colour-banding research on the species in Melghat and Tadoba Tiger Reserves and the forests of Toranmal, Maharashtra is planned for September 2013 (Anon. 2013).
23 cm. Typical owlet with rather plain crown and heavily banded wings and tail. Dark grey-brown crown and nape, faintly spotted white. Broadly banded, blackish-brown and white wings and tail, with a broad white tail-tip. Dark brown breast with broad, prominent barring on flanks. Rest of underparts are white. Similar spp. Spotted Owlet A. brama has more distinct spotting on crown and nape, a prominent white nuchal collar, and lacks broadly banded tail. Voice Territorial call is rather loud, mellow uwww or uh-wuwww. Calls include hissing shreeee or kheek and repeated kwaak notes, rising and falling in pitch.
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Davidson, P., Derhé, M., Mahood, S., Peet, N., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Tobias, J., Khwaja, N. & Ashpole, J
Ishtiag, F., Jathar, G., Kasambe, R., Mehta, P. & Patil, D.
BirdLife International (2017) Species factsheet: Heteroglaux blewitti. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 19/10/2017. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2017) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 19/10/2017.