Interspecific interactions of the critically endangered Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti)
The Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti) is critically endangered and at extremely high risk of extinction owing to its restricted distribution. An expedition was organized to determine the density of the Forest Owlet in the Melghat Tiger Reserve in February 2004 where they had been observed sporadically in the previous 5 years. We hoped to identify as many individuals as possible and to observe interspecific interactions in order to understand the social framework in which the species survives. A total of 43.4 km of jungle roads was checked; we confirmed the presence of three of the 13 previously reported individuals, and found 11 previously undetected owlets. Owlets were found in areas with several interconnected forest clearings which allowed the owlets to forage in them. In all cases where the Forest Owlet occurred, a village or agricultural fields of the indigenous people (Adivasis) was within a 0.5-km radius. It appears that Forest Owlets preferred to establish feeding territories in areas disturbed by anthropogenic activity such as clearing dead trees and undergrowth for fire, trampling undergrowth while searching for firewood, burning areas around the agricultural plots, or driving herds of cattle through the area. All of these activities appear to optimize the habitat for the sit-and-wait foraging Forest Owlet, facilitating detection and tracking of prey in open areas with sparse and short undergrowth, allowing a better all-round view due to a lower density of trees.
KeywordsForest Owlet Athene blewitti Interactions Behavior
We thank Yokhai Wasserlauf, Kibbutz Gaash, who digitized the video tapes and identified the vocalizations that corroborated the field observations. Susan Craig improved an earlier version of the paper.
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