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Ferruginous Pygmy Owl - BirdForum Opus

Rufous morph subspecies G. b. ucayalae
Photo © by Joseph Morlan
Rio Ucayali, Zapote Creek, Loreto, Peru, 11 June 2019
Glaucidium brasilianum

Includes Ridgway's Pygmy Owl; Tucuman Pygmy Owl
Often hyphenated "Pygmy-Owl"


Gray morph, nominate subspecies
Photo © by Ciro Albano
Ribeiro Gonçalves, Piauí State, Brazil, 25 January 2005

15–19 cm (6-7½ in)
Red, brown, and grey morphs occur, and tail varies having whitish, orange-buffy, or very faint bars. Upperside generally dark with white spots, underside pale with prominent dark streaks (extent of streaks is variable). Face has prominent white eye-brows and crown is marked with short pale streaks.

As with most Pygmy-Owls, there are dark areas on the back of the head imitating an extra pair of eyes, most frequently with pale markings above the dark. Eyes are yellow, bill is greenish yellow, and toes are pale with especially tips of claws dark.


A red morph of the tucumanum form was described as: it's upper-parts were unmarked, except for some very fine whitish streaking on the forehead, crown and sides of the face, false eyes, whitish marks on the scapulars and about six reddish-buff tail bands. The breast was conspicuously white, with two upper central dark spots. Otherwise streaked below. Eyes and bill were yellow.

Similar species

Where overlapping with Northern Pygmy Owl they usually segregate by elevation with Northern at higher elevation. Ferruginous Pygmy Owl shows no pale collar around the neck, and tail is mostly longer than similar species.


From Arizona and south-east Texas through Mexico and Central America to South America where found east of the Andes to Argentina.


In the past, Austral Pygmy-Owl has been considered part of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. Konig et al.2 additionally have split subspecies ridgwayi (including cactorum and the not universally recognized saturatum) as the full species Ridgway's Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium ridgwayi which would include the birds from Panama to the USA; this has not been recognized by any of the world-wide checklists. Tucuman Pygmy-Owl (ssp tucumanum) is also sometimes split as full species.


Subspecies ridgwayi
Reddish-brown bird showing the rear 'eyes' (pale markings over dark)
Photo © by Niels J. Larsen
Hazienda Chichén, Yucatan, Mexico, 3 May 2012

Thirteen subspecies are recognized by Clements1.

  • G. b. cactorum: South-eastern Arizona and western Mexico (south to northern Nayari)
  • G. b. intermedium: western Mexico (south Nayarit south to southern Oaxaca)
  • G. b. saturatum: Southern Mexico (Chiapas) and Guatemala
  • G. b. ridgwayi: Southern Texas (lower Rio Grande Valley) to Panama (Canal Zone)
  • G. b. medianum: Tropical lowlands of northern Colombia
  • G. b. margaritae: Isla Margarita (Venezuela)
  • G. b. phaloenoides: Tropical northern Venezuela, Trinidad and the Guianas
  • G. b. duidae: Tepuis of southern Venezuela (Mount Duida)
  • G. b. olivaceum: Tepuis of southern Venezuela (Mount Auyan-Tepuí)
  • G. b. ucayalae: Eastern base of Andes of south-eastern Colombia to Peru and northern Bolivia
  • G. b. brasilianum: Southern Amazonian Brazil to eastern Paraguay, Uruguay and north-eastern Argentina
  • G. b. pallens: Chaco of eastern Bolivia, western Paraguay and northern Argentina
  • G. b. stranecki: Southern Uruguay to central Argentina
  • G. b. tucumanum (Tucuman): Subtropical western Argentina (Salta and Tucumán to Córdoba)


Subspecies phaloenoides
Photo © by DABS
Brasso Seco, Trinidad, 6 April 2017

A wide variety of habitats from primary lowland forest to coastal scrub and semi-open areas.


Crepuscular, with some activity at both day and night (especially moon-lit nights). May even spontaneously sing in the middle of the day and is easily provoked to do so by imitation. If seen out in the open in the middle of the day, small birds tend to mob it.


Their diet includes eggs and chicks of birds, smaller mammals and other vertebrates, and insects. In South America known to take birds up to the size of thrushes and Eared Dove (latter especially by larger southern subspecies, but even further north considered a species capable of catching prey larger than itself due to its strong feet). In the north considered a species that feeds mostly based on opportunity. Much of the hunting takes place inside forest with food taken both in trees and near the ground. Frequently hunts from a perch.


Nest in pre-existing hollows such as tree cavity, Hornero nest, or cavities in walls or banks. A clutch of two to five white eggs gets incubated by the female, with the male providing her food. Incubation is a little less than a month, and it takes almost another month for the young to fledge.


Full song is a monotonous series of "toots" or whistles with about 3 per second which is rather easily imitated. Duetting can occur especially early in breeding season with the song of the female higher pitched than the song of the male. Other sounds including series of ticks and chirps can occur, more frequently given by female.




  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, J. A. Gerbracht, D. Lepage, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2021. The eBird/Clements checklist of Birds of the World: v2021. Downloaded from https://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. König, C., F. Weick, & J.-H. Becking. 1999. Owls - a guide to the owls of the world. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300079206
  3. König, C. and F. Weick 2008. Owls of the World, second edition. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 978-0-7136-6548-2
  4. Proudfoot, G. A. and R. R. Johnson (2000). Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.498
  5. Birdforum thread with description of this species
  6. Holt, D.W., Berkley, R., Deppe, C., Enríquez Rocha, P., Petersen, J.L., Rangel Salazar, J.L., Segars, K.P., Wood, K.L., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Ferruginous Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/55075 on 18 July 2019).
  7. Larsen, R. (2012). Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/nb.fepowl.01
  8. Restall, R., C. Rodner, and M. Lentino. (2006) Birds of Northern South America. Yale University Press.

Recommended Citation

External Links

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