Bird O'clock

Unveiling the Secrets of the Remarkable Andean Pygmy-Owl

The Andean Pygmy-Owl, Glaucidium jardinii, is a small bird endemic to the South-American Andes. Within its range, it occupies a variety of forest habitats, from dense evergreen forests to cloud forests.

It is a cryptic owl, and its small size and excellent camouflage make it difficult to spot. However, it is possible to identify this bird by its characteristic facial disc, spots, and yellow eyes.


Field Identification

Despite its small size, the Andean Pygmy-Owl is a fierce predator that preys on small birds, insects, and rodents. The facial disc is one of the essential features of this bird.

It is round and bordered by a thin black line. The disc has a pale borde that gives the impression of a white eyebrow stripe.

The eyes are pale yellow, which distinguishes this species from most of the owls which have dark eyes. The upperparts of the Andean Pygmy-Owl vary from grayish-brown to reddish-brown, and the underparts are white with brown streaks.

The bird’s wingspan is around 40 cm, and its tail is relatively short. The owl’s legs are feathered down to its toes, which are covered with large scales.

Similar Species

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is often confused with the Amazonian Pygmy-Owl, Glaucidium hardyi. However, the Amazonian Pygmy-Owl is smaller and has a smaller, rounder head.

The Andean Pygmy-Owl has a longer tail than the Amazonian Pygmy-Owl. The two species have different calls, with the Andean Pygmy-Owl having a muffled, soft tooting sound.


The Andean Pygmy-Owl has three distinct plumages: juvenile, immature, and adult. The juvenile plumage is similar to the adult but has more significant facial disc spots and fewer streaks.

The immature plumage is darker than the adult, with longer streaks and less distinct facial disc spots. The adult plumage is the final plumage and is marked by the owl’s characteristic coloration and markings.


The Andean Pygmy-Owl goes through an annual molt. The timing of the molt varies across the species range, and it coincides with the breeding season.

During the molt, the bird replaces its old feathers with new ones. The bird becomes vulnerable during the molt because it cannot fly as well as it usually does.

The owl’s primary feathers also wear out after some use and are replaced during the molt.


The Andean Pygmy-Owl is a fascinating bird species with unique features. However, the species’ population is threatened by habitat loss, especially due to deforestation, logging, and agricultural expansion.

Therefore, it is essential to protect the Andean Pygmy-Owl’s habitat to ensure it does not disappear from its range. Observers, birdwatchers, and ornithologists should take extra precautions to avoid disturbing the owl during the molt.

Understanding and appreciating this beautiful bird species is essential to its survival.

Systematics History

The Andean Pygmy-Owl, scientifically known as Glaucidium jardinii, is a member of the Strigidae family. The bird was first described in 1870 by Philip Lutley Sclater, a British zoologist.

Its name “jardinii” honors the French naturalist Jules Jardin, who collected the bird in Ecuador during a scientific expedition.

Geographic Variation

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is found throughout the Andes of South America, from Colombia to northern Chile and Argentina. The bird is a local resident in forest habitats, from sea level to an altitude of around 4,500 meters.

The species has a wide geographic range and exhibits variations in morphology and vocalizations across its range.


The Andean Pygmy-Owl has five recognized subspecies, each with distinct differences in appearance and vocalizations. The nominal subspecies, Glaucidium jardinii jardinii, is found in Central Colombia and Venezuela.

This subspecies has a grayish-brown head and back, while the underparts are white with brown streaks. The bird’s facial disc has a broad white border, and the spots are less distinct.

Glaucidium jardinii tucumanum is found in the Andean forests of Bolivia, Peru, and northwestern Argentina. This subspecies has a darker upperparts coloration with a reddish-brown head and back.

The bird’s spots are more prominent and narrower than those of the nominal subspecies. The subspecies Glaucidium jardinii bolivianum is found in the eastern Andes of Bolivia.

This subspecies has a lighter upperparts coloration and less distinct streaking on the underparts. The bird’s facial disc is similar to that of the nominal subspecies.

Glaucidium jardinii soederstroemi is found in the Andes of central Peru. This subspecies has a darker upperparts coloration, with a distinct reddish-brown tinge on the head and back.

The spots on the facial disc are broad and more prominent than those of the nominal subspecies. Finally, Glaucidium jardinii saturatum is found in the Andes of southern Peru, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina.

This subspecies is the smallest of the Andean Pygmy-Owls and has a paler overall coloration with less distinct streaking on the underparts. The facial disc is smaller and darker than that of other subspecies.

Related Species

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is part of the genus Glaucidium and is closely related to other pygmy-owls found in North and South America. The genus consists of around 30 small owl species that share similar features, such as small size, rounded heads, and prominent facial discs.

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is most closely related to the Lineated Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum), found in Central and South America. However, the Lineated Pygmy-Owl has more distinct streaking on the underparts and a broader black border around the facial disc.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Andean Pygmy-Owl’s distribution has remained relatively stable in recent times. However, historical changes in climate and land use have likely influenced the species’ range over time.

During the last glacial epoch, around 20,000 years ago, the Andean Pygmy-Owl’s range would have been significantly reduced due to changes in temperature and vegetation patterns. Human activities, such as deforestation and habitat degradation due to agriculture and infrastructure development, have affected the Andean Pygmy-Owl’s populations in recent times.

However, the species is not currently listed as threatened, and its population is believed to be stable. In conclusion, the Andean Pygmy-Owl is a fascinating bird species that exhibits geographical variations across its range.

The existence of five different subspecies highlights the species’ remarkable adaptability to different environmental conditions. Understanding the bird’s systematics history and distribution is crucial to its conservation, as human activities have the potential to negatively impact its populations in the future.


The Andean Pygmy-Owl is a resident bird species that inhabits a variety of forested habitats across its range. The species prefers evergreen and cloud forests, but can also occur in degraded and secondary forests, as well as wooded ravines and riparian corridors.

The bird is often found near water sources, such as streams or rivers, and can occur from sea level to an altitude of around 4,500 meters. The species’ range covers a large area, spanning from Colombia to northern Chile and Argentina.

The variation in elevation and habitat types across its range has contributed to the formation of different subspecies, each adapted to their specific habitats. In general, the Andean Pygmy-Owl is a sedentary species that is non-migratory.

However, the bird can exhibit some movements in response to local changes in food availability or weather conditions.

Movements and Migration

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is a non-migratory bird species, and most populations are sedentary throughout the year. However, there are some reports of seasonal movements within the species’ range.

For example, some populations in Ecuador and Peru have been observed moving to lower elevations during the non-breeding season, possibly in search of food. In Colombia, the species has been reported moving to higher elevations during the breeding season, likely in response to the availability of prey.

Despite these observations, more research is needed to understand the species’ movements and their drivers fully. It is challenging to study the Andean Pygmy-Owl’s movements due to its cryptic nature and small size.

However, advances in tracking technology, such as radio transmitters and GPS, could help researchers better understand the species’ movements and habitat use.

Habitat Loss and Conservation

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is not currently listed as a globally threatened bird species. However, habitat loss due to deforestation, logging, and agricultural expansion poses a significant threat to the bird’s populations in certain areas.

The species’ preference for forested habitats means that the bird is vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and degradation. The loss of forested areas can also cause local declines in prey availability, further impacting the Andean Pygmy-Owl’s populations.

Conservation efforts to protect the bird’s habitat are therefore crucial to ensuring the species’ survival. Protected areas, such as national parks and reserves, can provide a refuge for the Andean Pygmy-Owl and other forest-dependent bird species.

However, many protected areas within the species’ range are poorly managed, and illegal logging and mining activities continue to threaten their habitats. Other conservation measures include promoting sustainable forest management and reducing deforestation through land-use planning and policy reform.

Protecting riparian corridors and other critical water sources can also benefit the species, as they are often associated with these habitats. In

Conclusion, the Andean Pygmy-Owl is a sedentary bird species resident in a variety of forested habitats across its range.

Although the species is non-migratory, seasonal movements have been reported in certain areas.

Habitat loss due to deforestation, agricultural expansion, and logging pose significant threats to the species, emphasizing the importance of habitat conservation efforts.

The Andean Pygmy-Owl’s cryptic nature and small size make it challenging to study and track, highlighting the need for further research to understand the species’ ecology and movements better.

Diet and Foraging


The Andean Pygmy-Owl is a carnivorous bird species that feeds on a variety of prey, including insects, small vertebrates, and birds. The owl is a diurnal hunter, actively hunting during the day.

The species employs sit-and-wait tactics, perching on a prominent branch or tree trunk, waiting for prey to appear. Once prey is spotted, the bird launches itself quickly towards the target, usually with silent flight.


The species’ diet varies across its range and is influenced by the availability of prey in different habitats. Insects, particularly moths, butterflies, and beetles, are an essential component of the Andean Pygmy-Owl’s diet in many areas.

The species also preys on small mammals, such as mice and shrews, and reptiles, such as lizards. Birds represent another important prey group for the Andean Pygmy-Owl.

The bird typically preys on small songbirds, such as warblers and sparrows. The owl’s prey selection is not restricted to small birds, as it has been observed preying on birds larger than itself.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Andean Pygmy-Owl has a high metabolic rate, necessary for its active and efficient hunting tactics. The bird possesses a unique thermoregulation mechanism that helps reduce metabolic rate and enhance heat conservation during long periods of inactivity.

The bird lowers its body temperature, reducing heart rate and oxygen consumption while still maintaining alertness and the ability to launch into action quickly. This mechanism is necessary for the bird’s survival, as it enables the bird to conserve energy during long periods of inactivity, such as during the non-breeding season or when prey is scarce.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Andean Pygmy-Owl has a varied repertoire of vocalizations. The species employs a series of soft hoots, toots, and whistles, which serve to advertise its territory and attract mates.

The owl’s primary vocalization is a soft, low-pitched hoot, repeated several times in a row, lasting around 2-3 seconds. This hoot is often preceded by a low “whoop” sound, which serves as a contact call.

The Andean Pygmy-Owl also has a territorial advertisement call, which consists of several loud hoots made in rapid succession. This call can be heard over long distances and is often used to signal the bird’s presence to other birds in the area.

The species also uses soft tooting sounds during courtship and mating. These toots, often made by the male, are higher-pitched than the hoots and arranged in a series of four to six notes.

Finally, the bird employs a hissing sound, made by expelling air through its bill, as a defensive call when threatened. In conclusion, the Andean Pygmy-Owl is a carnivorous bird species that preys on a variety of small vertebrates and insects.

The bird’s unique thermoregulation mechanism helps it preserve energy during periods of inactivity, enhancing its ability to survive in harsh environments. The species possesses a varied repertoire of vocalizations, which it uses for territorial advertisement, mating, and defensive purposes.

The soft hoots and toots, often heard throughout the Andean forests, provide a distinctive soundscape for these remarkable birds.



The Andean Pygmy-Owl is a tree-dwelling species that spends much of its time perching on branches or tree trunks. The bird’s small size and strong talons allow it to cling to vertical surfaces and navigate efficiently through dense vegetation.

The owl moves with agility through the forest canopy, frequently using short bursts of flight to move between perches.

Self Maintenance

The species preens itself frequently, using its sharp talons to scratch and groom its body plumage. The Andean Pygmy-Owl also bathes frequently, often in shallow pools or small streams, flapping its wings to dislodge dirt and dust from its feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is territorial and will defend its territory aggressively against intruders, using vocalizations and physical displays to deter rivals. The bird’s territorial behavior is most pronounced during the breeding season, when males compete for access to females.

Sexual Behavior

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is monogamous, with pairs typically forming long-term bonds that persist throughout the breeding season. Males court females using vocalizations, offering prey items, and performing physical displays such as bowing and tail pumping.


The Andean Pygmy-Owl breeds throughout its range, with the breeding season typically occurring between October and January. The species breeds cooperatively, with both male and female caring for the young.

The bird’s nest is typically located in tree cavities or other natural crevices, often at heights of 3-5 meters above the ground. The female lays a clutch of 1-3 eggs, which are incubated primarily by the female for a period of around 24-26 days.

The male assists in the incubation process and provides food for the female during this time. Once the eggs hatch, both parents participate in feeding the young, bringing food items such as insects and small mammals to the nest.

The young birds fledge after around 26-30 days, at which point they leave the nest and start to fend for themselves.

Demography and Populations

The Andean Pygmy-Owl is not currently considered to be globally threatened, with populations believed to be stable throughout its range. However, the species is vulnerable to habitat loss, which remains a significant threat.

Agricultural expansion, deforestation, and mining activities continue to impact the owl’s habitat, particularly in areas where protected areas are poorly managed. Monitoring of the species’ populations is essential to determine the species’ conservation status accurately.

Advances in monitoring technology, such as acoustic surveys and camera traps, have greatly improved our ability to study and monitor the Andean Pygmy-Owl’s populations. In conclusion, the Andean Pygmy-Owl is a fascinating bird species with unique behaviors.

The owl’s tree-dwelling lifestyle and territorial behavior make it an active and adaptable predator, well-suited to the Andean forest habitat. The species’ monogamous breeding system and cooperative parental care demonstrate its significant role in maintaining healthy populations of forest birds.

However, habitat loss continues to threaten the owl’s survival, highlighting the need for conservation efforts to protect the Andean forests and the species that inhabit them. In conclusion, the Andean Pygmy-Owl is a remarkable bird species with a range of unique characteristics and fascinating behaviors.

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