The Flammulated Owl is a very small and secretive nocturnal owl, plump in stature but comparative in size to an American Robin. They are quite common, but once thought of as rare due to limited study. Regardless, they are still not a commonly seen species and will be most often and reliably identified by voice. Flammulated Owls reside within open, mountainous coniferous and mixed deciduous/coniferous forests in Mexico, the western United States, and into southwest Canada. Ponderosa pine forest is their favored habitat, and they are hole nesters, like many small forest owls, using tree cavities made by other birds (woodpeckers). Flammulated Owls hunt at night, picking crickets and beetles off of trees, vegetation and the ground, or by catching prey in flight (especially moths). Although they primarily feed on insects (99% of diet), they have been documented eating mice on rare occasions.
Flammulated Owls sometimes perch out in the open within a forest, and are often given away during the day by noisy songbirds chattering at them. When mating, Flammulated Owls make a soft, deep-pitched "hoot" similar to the sound made by blowing across the top of a bottle. The sound conjurs images of a much larger bird and it can be hard to pinpoint which direction or distance the soft, flat call is coming from--especially when they are aware of your presence, singing even softer and sounding farther away.
Perched, appear stocky with broad body and head and short tail.
Two small "ear" tufts not always held upright or easy to see.
In flight, wings are broad and rounded at tips. Tail is short, giving a stocky, blunt-headed silhouette.
Flight (rarely seen)
Flies with very rapid, silent wing beats.
Flies for short periods, normally just tree to tree but can fly through the night on migration.
Less active on cold, windy nights.
Very similar in appearance to Screech Owl.
Mottled gray-brown overall with dark streaks on chest and dark on head. Reddish (or flame-colored, hence the name 'Flammulated') on chin, eyebrows, around well defined facial disk, and on upperwing coverts.
Large dark eyes (brown iris) and pale bill (Screech Owl has yellow eyes).
Juvenile similar to adult.
Most populations in the US migrate; birds in southern AZ/NM and in Mexico may be resident.
On migration, seen throughout the Cascade Mts. in CA, the Intermountain West (including Goshute Mts., NV), and Rocky Mts. (especially CO) in fall.
Spring migrants seen along same ranges as fall, but less is known about spring movements.