Raptor Identification

Psiloscops flammeolus

Flammulated Owl

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern
Conservation Concerns: Habitat Degradation, Climate Change
Group: Owl
Size: L 6-7″ / WS 16″


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 were once considered 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 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 trees, vegetation, and the ground or 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 conjures images of a much larger bird. 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, Flammulated Owls appear stocky with a broad body and head and short tail
  • Two small “ear” tufts are not always held upright or easy to see
  • In flight, wings are broad and rounded at the tips
  • The tail is short, giving a stocky, blunt-headed silhouette


  • Like many owls, rarely seen in flight
  • Flies with very rapid, silent wing beats
  • Flies for short periods, usually just tree to tree, but can fly through the night on migration
  • Less active on cold, windy nights


  • All ages are dark brown overall with a golden nape
  • Very similar in appearance to Western Screech-Owl
  • Mottled gray-brown overall with dark streaks on the chest and dark on the head
  • Reddish (or flame-colored, hence the name ‘Flammulated’) on the chin, eyebrows, around a well-defined facial disk, and on upperwing coverts
  • Very similar in appearance to Western Screech-Owl, but has large dark, brown eyes instead of yellow eyes

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