The elusive bird was recently spotted in Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary in Palghar district of Maharashtra. Tansa is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) based on the earlier studies carried out by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Atul Sathe, Manager-Communications, BNHS-India said.
This discovery is significant and more studies are required to identify its presence in other similar habitats in drier parts of northern Western Ghats, he said.
In an era when forests everywhere in general and in Western Ghats in particular are vanishing or getting degraded, the new discovery of Forest Owlet (Scientific name Heteroglaux blewitti, earlier called Athene blewitti) – a Critically Endangered bird according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List – brings new hope about the survival of biodiversity.
In October this year, former BNHS employee and naturalist Sunil Laad, along with his companions, spotted the Forest Owlet seated on a dry tree in the morning. The sighted bird was clearly differentiated from the commonly found Spotted Owlet (Scientific name: Athene brama) due to its unspotted crown, complete collar on breast, dark primaries and broadly banded tail.
Calls of Forest Owlet were also heard seven km away from this location during subsequent visits to Tansa.
Since the bird has been found significantly outside (250 km southwards) its earlier known range, reassessment of its earlier known distribution range is necessary, Sathe said.
For nearly 113 years, Forest Owlet was considered to be extinct, until researchers rediscovered it in 1997 in Toranmal Reserve Forest near Shahada in the Satpuda ranges in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, he said.