Arizona welcomes first captive bred cactus ferruginous pygmy owls

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June 10th, 2008

Arizona welcomes first captive bred cactus ferruginous pygmy owls

Don’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.

4 Responses to “Arizona welcomes first captive bred cactus ferruginous pygmy owls”

  1. can you put some genetive behavoir passed down from parents?

  2. I’m not exactly sure what information you are requesting, but if you want to rephrase it, I can try to get an answer for you. AZGFD

  3. That’s great news! I’m a college student at New Mexico State University, and an aspiring wildlife biologist, and I’m currently doing a report on the need to protect the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. While certain benefits from this species are obvious and apply to most owls (controlling the rodent and small bird populations), could you please share with me other benefits specific to this owl? I would greatly appreciate it. Any other links or resources that anyone would be kind enough to share would also be very much appreciated.
    M. Byers

  4. Hi Meghan,

    Thanks for your interest in cactus ferruginous pygmy owls (CFPO). In addition to the direct benefits you mentioned, one of the primary benefits of CFPOs – and any species for that matter – is a more philosophical one: the critical role they play in the “ecological chain.” For most species, if they were to go extinct, their role would be filled by other species (i.e. if bald eagles went extinct, ospreys and turkey vultures would prey on a similar food base and move into their habitat). So, if CFPOs were to go extinct, rodent and bird populations would still be maintained by other species, but the natural balance and order of an ecosystem would be disrupted. Losing any link in the “ecological chain” decreases ecological diversity. Good science principles drive us to maintain species diversity to maintain the natural order of the environment/ecosystem.

    I hope that helps and good luck with your report!


    Lynda Lambert

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