Long-whiskered owlet (Xenoglaux loweryi)

Spanish: Búho Pequeño de Bigotes Alargados, Lechucita Bigotona Mochuelo Peludo
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderStrigiformes
FamilyStrigidae
GenusXenoaglaux (1)
SizeLength: 13 – 14 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The long-whiskered owlet is such a distinctive owl species that it has been placed in its own genus, Xenoglaux, a name arising from words meaning ‘strange owl’ in Greek (4) (5) (6). The owlet is one of South America’s most elusive birds; since its discovery in 1976 only four wild sightings have been reported and only five individuals captured (2) (4) (7) (8). As a result, little is known about the species (7) (9).

One of the world’s smallest owls (6), the long-whiskered owlet is also one of the most eccentric in appearance, with large, bright reddish-orange eyes, prominent yellowish-white eyebrows and long facial ‘whiskers’ sprouting from the base of the bill and the sides of the face (2) (5) (6). The owlet’s body is a warm brown colour with darker patterning, and it has a short tail and bare toes (2). The owlet has a distinctive territorial call consisting of a single, deep ‘woh’ performed at three-second intervals (2).

The long-whiskered owlet is found in South America, where it is believed to occur only in a small area of the eastern Andes in northern Peru, estimated at just 190 square kilometres (2). Until recently the species was known at only two sites: the discovery site near Abra Patricia in the department of San Martín, and the Cordillera de Colán in the department of Amazonas (2). However, in 2010 researchers discovered an additional population in La Esperanza (8) (10).

The owlet appears to solely inhabit humid, montane forest (8), situated on isolated ridges between 1,890 and 2,350 metres above sea level (2) (7), where it is typically found in the under- and mid-storey of the forest (2) (7). This habitat is described as being characterised by dense Chusquea bamboo thickets, abundant epiphytes, and scattered palm trees and tree ferns (2) (7).

The long-whiskered owlet is difficult to locate and capture, and the paucity of examined specimens means that almost nothing is known about its biology (2) (6) (7).

The species was originally heard and captured at dusk and during the night (7); however, in 2007 a research team sighted the owlet several times during the day (6). It has been speculated that the species may be almost flightless (2).

The primary threat to the long-whiskered owlet is the loss of its humid forest habitat (10). The tropical Andes, including the owlet’s range, are classified as a biodiversity hotspot, but it is estimated that only 25 percent of the original habitat remains in this area (11). Although some areas of montane forest in north-east Peru remain relatively pristine (12), deforestation is accelerating (10).

The inaccessibility of the owlet’s habitat has afforded it protection in the past; however, human activity is now expanding into this habitat (2) (5) (7), resulting in extensive clearance for grazing and agriculture in some locations (13). Forest habitat is declining in known owlet locations - rapidly in Cordillera de Colán and to a lesser extent around Abra Patricia (2). A paved highway along the main ridge in Abra Patricia has increased clearance pressure (2) (14), in addition to opening the area to poaching of wildlife (15).

The main conservation measures aimed at, or affecting, the long-whiskered owlet involve the protection of its habitat. Until recently, the owlet’s habitat was completely unprotected (6); although the species occurred near to the Alto Mayo Protected Forest in San Martín (2), protection was only partial (14) and had little effect on the rate of deforestation (2).

Several conservation organisations acknowledge the north-eastern Peruvian forests as a key habitat for biodiversity; Conservation International has classed the whole tropical Andes area as a biodiversity hotspot (11), and BirdLife International class the north-eastern Peruvian mountains an Endemic Bird Area (EBA) with urgent priority for conservation (12). BirdLife International, in partnership with Conservation International, has also mapped 33 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Peru (16), including Abra Patricia and Cordillera de Colán (17). Such acknowledgement has drawn additional attention and funding for conservation in the region. BirdFair raised $300,000 to support conservation of 8 of the most critical IBAs and BirdLife International are working with NGO partners to support projects including raising local awareness of the long-whiskered owlet through construction of an interpretive centre, and promotion of alternative, less harmful local practices in IBAs (16). A new reserve, the Abra Patricia-Alto Nieva Private Conservation Area, has also now been established to protect the long-whiskered owlet along with other species (6).

Many conservationists hope that the discovery of the long-whiskered-owlet population at La Esperanza will further aid conservation of the species and its habitat by generating further interest from birdwatchers and conservationists (8) (10).

To learn more about wildlife conservation in Peru see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. BirdLife International (June, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=2285&m=0
  3. CITES (June, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. O’Neill, J.P. and Graves, G.R. (1977) A new genus and species of owl (Aves: Strigidae) from Peru. The Auk, 94(3): 409-416.
  5. de Pastino, B. (2007) Photo in the News: ‘Strange Owl’ Seen in Wild for First Time. National Geographic, Online. Available at:
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/03/070323-owl-picture.html
  6. Wildlife Extra: Long-whiskered owlet seen in the wild for the first time (June, 2010)
    http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/long-whiskered_owlet.html#cr
  7. BirdLife International (1992) Threatened Birds of the Americas. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  8. Neotropical Primate Conservation (June, 2010)
    http://neoprimate.org/archives/259/lang/en
  9. BirdLife International: Long-whiskered owlet puts on a show (June, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2007/03/long-whiskered_owlet.html
  10. Wildlife Extra: New population of a rare and endangered long-whiskered owlet found in Peru (June, 2010)
    http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/whiskered-owlet210.html#cr
  11. Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots (June, 2010)
    http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/Hotspots/andes/Pages/default.aspx
  12. BirdLife International: EBA Factsheet: North-east Peruvian cordilleras (June, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/search/ebas_search.html?action=EbaHTMDetails.asp&sid=51&m=0
  13. WWF: Wild World Ecoregion Profile (June, 2010)
    http://www.nationalgeographic.com/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/nt/nt0153.html
  14. Alliancefor Zero Extinction (June, 2010)
    http://www.zeroextinction.org/
  15. American Bird Conservancy (June, 2010)
    http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/international/action/abrapatricia.html
  16. BirdLife International: Conservation effort launched to protect the threatened biodiversity of Northern Peru’s “forgotten” forests (June, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/news/pr/2006/03/peru.html
  17. BirdLife International: IBAs in Peru (June, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/sites/index.html?action=SitHTMFindResults.asp&INam=&Reg=11&Cty=166