Only one pair of the critically endangered forest owlets could be surviving in the reserve forests at Nandurbar, a reassessment on the status of the bird has stated.
A two-member team who conducted the survey over two phases in 2010-2011 found the only surviving pair in the Toranmal Reserve Forests where seven pairs were found in 2004. It is not clear whether the surviving pair is breeding.
At present, there are just a few forest owlets across the world apart from those found in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in India.
It was the shrinking tree cover in the reserve forest revealed by satellite images that prompted researchers to review the status of the bird. The forest owlet is threatened by encroachments, conversion of forest areas into agricultural land, frequent forest fires, inappropriate forest management and pesticide use.
“Shrinking tree cover would also mean shrinking of the bird’s habitat. The six pairs may have disappeared or dispersed. However, the likelihood of their dispersal is low as the forest owlet is a very territorial bird,” said Girish Jathar, principal investigator, adding that they are not discounting the existence of more birds in other areas.
For 113 years, the forest owlet was regarded extinct till Pamela Rasmussen, researcher at the National Museum of Natural History, rediscovered it on her trip to Maharashta in 1997. Unlike spotted owlets that are nocturnal, with a harsh birdcall, forest owlets venture out during the day and sound like cuckoos.