Spotted owlet

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Spotted owlet
Spotted owlet (Athene brama indica).jpg
A. b. indica from Uttar Pradesh, India
Athene brama 1.jpg
A. b. pulchra from Singapore
A pair calling in Pune
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Athene
A. brama
Binomial name
Athene brama
(Temminck, 1821)

Carine brama
Noctua indica Franklin, 1831

The spotted owlet (Athene brama) is a small owl which breeds in tropical Asia from mainland India to Southeast Asia. A common resident of open habitats including farmland and human habitation, it has adapted to living in cities. They roost in small groups in the hollows of trees or in cavities in rocks or buildings. It nests in a hole in a tree or building, laying 3–5 eggs. They are often found near human habitation. The species shows great variation including clinal variation in size and forms a superspecies with the very similar little owl.


The spotted owlet is a small and stocky bird, barely 21 centimetres (8.3 in) in size. The upperparts are grey-brown, heavily spotted with white. The underparts are white, streaked with brown. The facial disc is pale and the iris is yellow. There is a white neckband and supercilium. Sexes are similar. The flight is deeply undulating. The nominate form is darker than the paler forms such as indica of drier regions.[2]


Early workers sometimes treated members of this species group as subspecies of Athene noctua. The two have been separated but they are considered to form a superspecies complex. Several subspecies have been described and about four or five are widely accepted (the race poikila[3] is invalid and refers to Aegolius funereus[4] A. b. fryi of southern India described by Stuart Baker and A. b. mayri described by Deignan from northern Thailand[5] are not usually recognized.[6]). The five widely recognized subspecies are albida Koelz, 1950 of western Asia in Iran and Pakistan; indica (Franklin, 1831) of northern India; brama (Temminck, 1821) of southern India which is darker than indica; ultra Ripley, 1948 (not always recognized) of northeastern India is said to have the white spots on mantle much and "higher pitched calls"; and pulchra Hume, 1873 of Southeast Asia from Myanmar and Thailand extending into Cambodia and Vietnam. The northern and southern Indian populations intergrade and there is no dividing boundary. The northern indica populations have the upperparts brownish. Size decreases from north to south. The species is not found in Sri Lanka, although birds on the Indian mainland are found even at the tip of Rameshwaram.[7][8]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

This species is nocturnal but is sometimes seen in the day. When disturbed from their daytime site, they bob their head and stare at intruders.[9] It can often be located by the small birds that mob it while it is perched in a tree. It hunts a variety of insects and small vertebrates. In Pakistan they have been found to take mostly insect prey.[10][11][12] In the arid region of Jodhpur, they have been found to take more rodents (especially in the genus Mus and tend to avoid other rodents such as Tatera) prior to the breeding season.[13] Bats, toads, small snakes such as Ramphotyphlops braminus have been noted.[14][15] They may also take scorpions and molluscs.[16] Nests near human habitations may show higher breeding success due to increased availability of rodents for feeding young.[17]

The call is a harsh and loud churring and chuckling chirurr-chirurr-chirurr ending with a chirwak-chirwak and they call mainly during early dawn or just after sunset.[2][18]

The breeding season is November to April.[2] Courtship behaviour includes bill grasping, allopreening and ritual feeding. The female may call with the male, bob head and deflect its tail in invitation.[19] The social organization of family groups is not clear and multiple males may copulate with a female and females may attempt pseudocopulation,[20] possibly a kind of displacement behaviour.[21][22] They nest in cavities often competing with other hole-nesters such as mynas, rollers and parakeets. They may also nest in holes in vertical embankments.[23] The nest may be lined with leaves and feathers or may use the existing lining from a prior occupant. The typical clutch is made up of three or four spherical white eggs (30.9mm long and 26.3 mm wide, 11.6g) and incubation begins with the first laid eggs leading to a wide variation in the size of the chicks. The young are fed initially on insects such as cockroaches and later fed small vertebrate prey such as mice (a toad Bufo stomaticus has been noted in Gujarat). The chicks gain weight during the early stages but lose weight before fledging.[24] Only one or two chicks may fledge and they leave the nest in about a month.[14]

The brain has a pineal gland, formerly thought to be absent in the owls.[25] Birds show variation in the melatonin concentration between day and night. A high melatonin level is associated with sleep and low levels are associated with high alertness and foraging activity. Spotted owlets, however, show only a slightly lower melatonin concentration at night with a slight increase in the early afternoon. Other owls such as the barn owl show little day-night variation.[26][27] Seasonal changes in glandular activity have been associated with environmental factors such as temperature and humidity.[28]

A coccidian parasites, Eimeria atheni, has been described from this species.[29] An ectoparasitic mite, Neocheletiella athene, has been described from a specimen from the Antwerp zoo.[30] Bird lice of the species Colpocephalum pectinatum are known to be ectoparasites.[31]

In culture[edit]

These birds, being very familiar to humans especially with their loud calling, have been associated with bad omens.[32] The species name brama is from the French name Chouette brame and indirectly refers to this owl's Indian habitat by way of homage to Brahma, the Hindu supreme spirit. In Hindu mythology the owl is a vahan (mode of transport) of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth.[33]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Athene brama". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Rasmussen PC & JC Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. 2. Smithsonian Institution & Lynx Edicions. pp. 246–247.
  3. ^ Lan, Yang; Li Gui-yuan (1989). "A New Subspecies of The Athene brama (Spotted Little Owl)—A. b. poikila (Belly-mottled Little Owl)". Zoological Research. 10 (4): 303–308.
  4. ^ Sun, Yue-Hua; Bi Zhong-Lin; Wolfgang Scherzinger (2003). "Belly-mottled little owl Athene brama poikila should be boreal owl (Aegolius funereus beickianus)". Current Zoology. 49 (3): 389–392.
  5. ^ Deignan HG (1941). "New birds from the Indo-Chinese sub-region" (PDF). The Auk. 58 (3): 396–398. doi:10.2307/4078958. JSTOR 4078958.
  6. ^ Baker, ECS (1920). "Notes on a collection of bird-skins formed by Mr. E.G.Herbert, C.M.Z.S, M.B.O.U". J. Nat. Hist. Soc. Siam. 4 (1): 25–43.
  7. ^ Ali, S & S D Ripley (1981). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan. 3 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 299–302. ISBN 0-19-562063-1.
  8. ^ Baker, E. C. S. (1919). "Descriptions of subspecies of Carine brama". Bulletin B.O.C. 40: 60–61.
  9. ^ Ali, Salim (1996). The Book of Indian Birds (12th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-561634-0.
  10. ^ Shah, Z.A. & M.A. Beg (2001). "Food of the Spotted Little Owl (Athene brama) at a place where a cropland and a sandy wasteland met". Pakistan J. Zool. 33: 53–56.
  11. ^ Shah, Z.A. & M.A. Beg (2001). "Food of the Spotted Little Owl (Athene brama) at a place where a cropland and a Sandy wasteland met". Pakistan J. Zool. 33: 53–56.
  12. ^ Beg, M.A.; M. Maqbool & M. Mushtaq–ul–Hassan (1990). "Food habits of spotted owlet, Athene brama". Pakistan J. Agri. Sci. 27: 127–131.
  13. ^ Jain AP; R Advani (1983). "Winter food of spotted owlet, Athene brama indica". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 80 (2): 415–416.
  14. ^ a b Anika Jadhav, Parasharya, B. M. (2003). "Some observations on the nesting behaviour and food of the spotted owlet Athene brama" (PDF). Zoos' Print Journal. 18 (8): 1163–1165. doi:10.11609/jott.zpj.18.8.1163-5.
  15. ^ Santhanakrishnan R; Ali AHMS; Anbarasan U (2011). "Food habits and prey spectrum of Spotted Owlet (Athene brama) in Madurai District, Tamil Nadu, southern India". Chinese Birds. 2 (4): 193–199. doi:10.5122/cbirds.2011.0027.
  16. ^ Pande, S.; A. Pawashe; D.B. Bastawade & P.P. Kulkarni (2004). "Scorpions and molluscs: some new dietary records for Spotted Owlet Athene brama in India". Newsletter for Ornithologists. 1 (5): 68–70.
  17. ^ Pande, Satish; Amit Pawashe; Murlidhar N. Mahajan; Charu Joglekar & Anil Mahabal (2007). "Effect of Food and Habitat on Breeding Success in Spotted Owlets (Athene brama) Nesting in Villages and Rural Landscapes in India". Journal of Raptor Research. 41 (1): 26–34. doi:10.3356/0892-1016(2007)41[26:EOFAHO]2.0.CO;2.
  18. ^ Brahmachary, R. L.; Basu, T. K.; Sengupta, A. J. (1972). "On the daily screeching time of a colony of spotted owls Athene brama (Temminck)". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 69 (3): 649–651.
  19. ^ Hassan, Mehmood-ul (2008). "Some observations on behaviour of Spotted Owlet (Athene brama) during its breeding season" (PDF). The Journal of Animal and Plant Sciences. 18 (1): 47–49. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-17.
  20. ^ Pravin Charde & Raju Kasambe (2007). "Study of the mounting behaviour of Spotted Owlets Athene brama in Maharashtra, India" (PDF). Abstracts of World owl conference.
  21. ^ Watson, Adam (1957). "The behaviour, breeding, and food-ecology of the snowy owl Nyctea scandiaca". Ibis. 99 (3): 419–462. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1957.tb01959.x.
  22. ^ Kasambe, Raju (2004). "Unusual mounting behaviour of a female Spotted Owlet (Athene brama)". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 44 (4): 63–64.
  23. ^ Satish Pande; Amit Pawashe; M.N. Mahajan & Anil Mahabal (2006). "Changing nest site preference for holes in earth cuttings in Spotted Owlet Athene brama" (PDF). Indian Birds. 2 (1): 7–8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-20.
  24. ^ Pande S, Pawashe A, Mahajan MB, Mahabal A, Yosef R, Dahanukar N (2011). "Biometry based ageing of nestling Indian Spotted Owlets ( Athene brama brama)". ZooKeys. 132 (132): 75–88. doi:10.3897/zookeys.132.1346. PMC 3208435. PMID 22140335.
  25. ^ Haldar, Chandana; Prasenjit Guchhait (2000). "Pineal gland of a nocturnal bird, Indian spotted owlet,Athene brama: Morphological and endocrine observations". Journal of Experimental Zoology. 287 (2): 145–150. doi:10.1002/1097-010X(20000701)287:2<145::AID-JEZ4>3.0.CO;2-K. PMID 10900433.
  26. ^ Guchhait P, Haldar C (1999). "Circadian rhythms of melatonin and sex steroids in a nocturnal bird, Indian spotted owlet Athene brama during reproductively active and inactive phases". Biol Rhythm Res. 30 (5): 508–516. doi:10.1076/brhm.30.5.508.1400.
  27. ^ Martin Wikelski; Elisa M. Tarlow; Corine M. Eising; Ton G.G. Groothuis; Ebo Gwinner (2005). "Do night-active birds lack daily melatonin rhythms? A case study comparing a diurnal and a nocturnal-foraging gull species" (PDF). J. Ornithol. 147 (1): 107–111. doi:10.1007/s10336-005-0018-4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-04-16.
  28. ^ Chandana Haldar; C.C. Sudha Kumari; Prasenjit Guchhait (2002). "Seasonal Adreno-Cortical Cycle of a Nocturnal Bird, Indian Spotted Owlet Athene brama: Biochemical and Morphological Observations". Biological Rhythm Research. 33 (1): 53–63. doi:10.1076/brhm.
  29. ^ Chauhan M.P.S.; Jain S.P. (1979). "A new coccidium, Eimeria atheni from a spotted owlet, Athene brama (Temminck)". Rivista di Parassitologia. 40: 167–169.
  30. ^ Fain, Alex & Andre V Bochkov (2001). "On some new or little known species of parasitic Cheyletidae (Acari:Prostigmata)" (PDF). Acarologia. 52 (2): 145–160.
  31. ^ Price, Roger D. & James R. Beer (1963). "The Species of Colpocephalum (Mallophaga: Menoponidae) Known to Occur on the Strigiformes" (PDF). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society. 36 (1): 58–64. JSTOR 25083305.
  32. ^ H. A. Rose (1910). "Panjab Folklore Notes". Folklore. 21 (2): 216–217. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1910.9719930.
  33. ^ Pittie, Aasheesh (2004). "A dictionary of scientific bird names originating from the Indian region" (PDF). Buceros. 9 (2): 1–31. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-04-01. Retrieved 13 December 2009.

Other sources[edit]

  • Kumar, TS; Rao, JVR (1984). "Diurnal changes in the body temperature of nestling Spotted Owlet, Athene brama brama (T)". Geobios, Jodhpur. 11 (5): 216–218.
  • Lamba, BS; Tyagi, AK (1976). "Incubation period in Northern Spotted Owlet, Athene brama indica (Franklin)". Newsl. Zool. Surv. India. 2 (4): 128–129.
  • Suresh, Kumar T. (1980). The life-history of the Spotted Owlet (Athene brama brama Temminck) in Andhra Pradesh. Raptor Research Centre, Hyderabad. Pub. No. 4.
  • Mahmood-ul-Hassan, Muhammad; Beg, Mirza Azhar; Mushtaq-ul-Hassan, Muhammad; Rana, Shahnaz Ahmed (2007). "Nesting and Breeding Habits of the Spotted Owlet (Athene brama) in Punjab, Pakistan". Journal of Raptor Research. 41 (1): 50–52. doi:10.3356/0892-1016(2007)41[50:NABHOT]2.0.CO;2.

External links[edit]