Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl - Illustration by Bill Singleton

Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum


The cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl is a small bird, averaging 6.5 inches in length and weighing 2.5 ounces. Overall, the owl is reddish-brown with a cream-colored belly striped with the rufous coloring. The crown is lightly streaked and the eyes are yellow. Black and white spots on the nape suggest eye spots.1 The owl has a relatively long tail and no ear tufts. This owl is diurnal. Its call, consisting of a monotonal 'put-put-put' note,2 can be heard during dusk and dawn.

Current information allows only a broad general description of where the owl has historically and currently occurred in Arizona. The cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl occurs in a variety of habitats, including river bottom woodlands, mesquite bosques, desert scrub, and plains and desert grasslands.1 Typical throughout these habitats are fairly dense woody thickets with trees and cacti large enough to provide nesting cavities.3

In the Sonoran desert scrub, the owl can be found in associations of ironwood, palo verde, mesquite, acacia, bursage, and columnar cactus such as saguaro and organ pipe.3

Historically, this subspecies appears to be geographically isolated into eastern and western populations. The western population ranged from lowland, central Arizona to the states of Colima and Michoacan, Mexico. The eastern population ranged from southern Texas into the states of Tampulipas and Nuevo Leon, Mexico.1

Currently, the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl range is similar to the historic range, but the number of owls is much smaller.1

The owl is an opportunistic predator feeding on what is available. The prey ranges from insects to mourning doves which outweigh the owl by two and a half times.

The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl nests in cavities in trees or cacti such as the organ pipe or saguaro. The pygmy owl begins nesting activity late winter to early spring.3 Three to five eggs are laid in late April­May.2 The eggs are incubated for about twenty-eight days. The young are fed by both parents. The young fledge twenty-seven to thirty days after hatching.2

The cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl was listed as Federally Endangered in 1997. The species was listed because current and historical evidence suggests a significant population decline has occured in Arizona, and that the the owl has been nearly extirpated.

The Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl in Pima County:
At one time, the pygmy owl was described as "of common occurrence," "not uncommon," and "fairly numerous" in southern Arizona.1 Today, the owl numbers are very low and, until recently, very little was known about the owl. Some of the pygmy owls' habitat is found in the fastest growing areas of Tucson.


1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. "Determination of Endangered Status for the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl in Arizona." Federal Register. Volume 62 (46).

2. Arizona Game and Fish Department. 1998. Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum. Heritage Data Management System.

3. Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. 9/24/99 Website:


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