Arizona Welcomes First Captive Bred Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owls

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Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy OwlsDon’t let the big name fool you. This owl species is anything but big, but thanks to the success of a new captive breeding program in the Valley, the species is growing in number.
Four new fledgling owls were welcomed this spring from two pairs of adult cactus ferruginous pygmy owls. The breeding program is part of an experimental research project to investigate the possibilities for recovering the species. It is carried out by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in conjunction with Wild At Heart, a raptor rescue and rehabilitation center outside of Phoenix.

After monitoring last year’s unsuccessful captive breeding attempts, several changes were implemented that proved important this year, including a change in the nestbox design, adding a substrate to the nestbox, and the installation of cameras to monitor the pairs and their eggs.

“Captive owl breeding programs typically take a few years to start producing solid results, so we are thrilled to have four fledglings in only our second year of the experimental program,“ says Chantal O’Brien, head of the Arizona Game and Fish Department research branch. “These new individuals will be added to the breeding program and, in time, we hope to produce enough young to augment the wild population.”

The breeding adult birds came from a wild capture of juvenile owls completed in the spring of 2006 by Game and Fish. Young birds were brought from the wild into a captive environment to protect them from tough drought conditions and other survival challenges facing young pygmy owls. Researchers thought that beginning a captive breeding program with these young birds would ensure their survival at a time when fledgling birds were dying, and help the department determine whether they could be bred in captivity.

The pygmy owl was previously considered an endangered species from 1997 to 2006. The birds’ status is currently being reconsidered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Conservation efforts for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl are a joint partnership between Game and Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wild At Heart.

The pygmy owl is less than 7 inches tall and weighs about 2 ½ ounces. It nests primarily in woodpecker holes in saguaro cactus found in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. These little birds are aggressive hunters that eat reptiles, insects and small birds and mammals.