Forest Owlet Athene blewitti


Justification of Red List category
Since its rediscovery in 1997 this species has been found at a number of new locations, several of which appear to hold significant populations. The population estimate has therefore been revised upwards, leading to its reclassification from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Nevertheless, the total known population remains very small and fragmented and is inferred to be declining as a result of the loss and degradation of its deciduous forest habitat.

Population justification
The population size was previously listed as 50-249 mature individuals based on the number of records from known sites. However, as more surveys are conducted more individuals are being found at more sites, e.g. its recent reporting from Gujarat (Patel et al. 2015) and there were 53 sightings from new localities during surveys in Melghat Tiger Reserve, although only 19 were found from known localities there (Kasambe et al. 2015). More than 100 individuals have been recorded at Melghat Tiger Reserve (Kasambe et al. 2005), at least 82 individuals have now been recorded in Dang District, Gujarat (Patel et al. 2017), and 42 individuals were recorded in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary during surveys between 2014-2016 (Laad et al. 2016). Given the increasing number of reports of this species it is likely that the global population size is likely to be >250 mature individuals, and so it is now placed in the range of 250-999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species faces a number of threats, the most serious of which are believed to be forest loss and degradation as a result of illegal logging and human encroachment, as well as forest fires and minor irrigation dams. In combination these threats are suspected to be causing a slow ongoing population decline over three generations (c.16 years).

Distribution and population

Heteroglaux blewitti is endemic to India, occurring in central and India and the north-western Ghats. 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 and south-east Madhya Pradesh (now in Chhattisgarh state) (Rasmussen 1998, G. Jathar in litt. 2012). 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 (three pairs at Taloda Forest Range, seven pairs at Toranmal Forest Range, one pair at Khaknar Range and one indiviudal at Melghat Tiger Reserve [Ishtiaq and Rahmani 2000]). Further surveys in 2004 found 12 adults and 7 fledglings in Toranmal, but no birds were found in Taloda (Jathar and Rahmani 2004). Of the original seven pairs at Toranmal Forest Range, only one pair was left in 2005 and 2006; however in 2009, two pairs could be confirmed in the area (Jathar and Rahmani 2006, Jathar and Patil 2011, G. Jathar in litt. 2010, 2012). 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). The species was recently recorded in Navapura and Chichpada Ranges in Nandurbar District, close to the state boundary of Gujarat (Mehta et al. 2017).

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 more widespread and previously overlooked in the western Satpura Mountains. In this area, 79 individuals could be found in 2004 (Jathar and Rahmani 2004). 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. In 2006, 24 birds were found in two sites in Burhanpur and one site in Khandwa (Mehta et al. 2007). The species has also been found breeding nearby at Yawal Wildlife Sanctuary (Chavan and Rithe 2009), however recent surveys did not record the species in this area (Ishtiaq and Rahmani 2000, Jathar and Rahmani 2004, Mehta et al. 2008, Bombay Natural History Society 2013, Mehta et al. 2017). Recent surveys have though found the species in the Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra (Laad and Dagale 2014) and in the Purna Wildlife Sanctuary, Gujarat (Patel et al. 2015). At least 82 individuals have now been recorded in Dang District, Gujarat (Patel et al. 2017), and 42 individuals were recorded in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary during surveys between 2014-2016 (Laad et al. 2016). Modelling suggests that its remaining range is severely fragmented, and only c.10% is protected (G. Jathar in litt. 2010). Records in 2016 from Navsari and Valsad Districts, Gujarat, in unprotected agricultural landscape with nearby forest patches (Patel et al. 2017) suggest that it may be tolerant of degraded habitat. 

Overall, confirmed records since 1997 now come from Toranmal Forest (Nandurbar District, Maharashtra); Taloda Forest (Nandurbar District, Maharashtra); Melghat Tiger Reserve (Amravati District, Maharashtra); Khaknar Forest (Burhanpur District, Madhya Pradesh); Piplod Forests and East and West Kalibhit Forests (Khandwa District, Madhya Pradesh); Yawal Wildlife Sanctuary (Jalgaon District, Maharashtra); Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary (Palghar District, Maharashtra); Purna Wildlife Sanctuary (Dang District, Gujarat); Betul District (Madhya Pradesh); Navsari and Valsad Districts (Gujarat) and Nashik District (Maharashtra) (King and Rasmussen 1998, Ishtiaq and Rahmani 2000, Mehta et al. 2008, Chavan and Rithe 2010, Laad and Dagale 2014, Mehta et al. 2015, Patel et al. 2015, 2017, Raha et al. 2017).


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), but the species has also recently been recorded at 920 m (Chavan et al, 2013). 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).


Forest in its range is being lost and degraded by illegal tree cutting for firewood and timber, and encroachment for cultivation, grazing and settlements, as well as forest fires and minor irrigation dams (Ishtiaq et al. 2002, 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 been subject to encroachment leading to habitat loss for this species (Nannaware 2014). In Gujarat, the species was recorded in dry deciduous forest interspersed wit agriculture and human settlements; the nearby areas were under severe anthropogenic pressure due to logging, forest fires amd cattle grazing (Patel et al. 2014, Koparde in litt. 2016). 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). Further potential threats come from development projects such as the widening of state/national highways (Kanha-Pench Corridor), and severe drought conditions which as well its direct effects on forest may also lead to increased anthropogenic pressures on the habitat (M. Bhujabal in litt. 2017).

Conservation actions

Conservation and research 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 other proected areas, e.g. Toranmal Reserve Forest, Khaknar Reserve Forest and Purna, Tansa and Yawal Wildlife Sanctuaries. 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 and research 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. Assess the status of the species in the newly discovered sites in the northern Western Ghats. Survey sites modelled by Jathar et al. (2015) as being potentially suitable for the species, particularly in Odisha and Chattisgarh states (G. Jathar in litt. 2017).

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). 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 was 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
Mahood, S., Peet, N., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Tobias, J., Bird, J., Ashpole, J, Butchart, S., Benstead, P., Davidson, P., Derhé, M., Hermes, C., Khwaja, N.

Kasambe, R., Jathar, G., Koparde, P., Ishtiaq, F., Mehta, P., Bhujabal, M., Patil, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Athene blewitti. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/forest-owlet-athene-blewitti on 04/03/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org on 04/03/2024.