A few weeks ago, as James and I were leading a bird tour, we had quite a lucky and enjoyable sighting. From the title and the picture on the left, you already know that we saw a small species of owl, but that actually wasn’t what we had been looking for at the time.
There was a hummingbird buzzing around in front of us on the trail, and eventually it landed on a branch on our left. We all turned to look at it more closely, but, as birds are apt to do, the hummer (a Rufous-tailed) swiftly flew out of sight. On a branch in the background of where the hummingbird had perched, stoically still, was
a light reddish-brown (rufous, in ornithological terms) lump with bright yellow eyes staring back at us.
Fortunately, the pygmy owl didn’t get alarmed as I slowly lifted my camera and the others lifted their binoculars. I was able to snap several shots, some in better focus than others, before the owl, which with the help of a local expert we later identified as a juvenile individual, decided it was time to find a more private perch.
The Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is a fairly common species in the neotropics, ranging from the southern US to southern South America. Even though they primarily hunt at dusk, they can also look for their prey–lizards, big invertebrates, and even birds as large as itself–during the day from a hidden stalking point and sally out to use their sharp talons. Given their partly avian diet, they are often mobbed by groups of smaller birds trying to eradicate potential predators–a behavior that James and I were actually able to see the day after the tour in which I got the shot above!
A few days later, we were lucky enough to spot another individual in the rain on a tree not too far from the original area where we saw the juvenile. You can see the more clear spotting and streaking on the bird’s crown, something missing on the juvenile above.