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Flammulated Owl, Psiloscops flammeolus

Flammulated owl perched on a fallen log in grass

Flammulated Owls inhabit coniferous forests in western North America, ranging from southern British Columbia in Canada, through the western United States, and into parts of Mexico and Central America. They prefer mixed woodlands, particularly those with dense stands of ponderosa pines and Douglas firs.

They are named for their flame-like facial markings, consisting of two small ear tufts or “flames” on either side of their head. They are a small owl species, measuring around 6 to 7.5 inches in length. They are known for their distinctive hooting call, which consists of a series of hoots that accelerate and then decelerate.

Flammulated Owls are generally elusive and quiet, making them challenging to spot or detect in the wild. They have excellent camouflage and rely on their cryptic plumage to blend in with their surroundings, providing them with effective protection against potential predators.

They are primarily nocturnal hunters, emerging at dusk to hunt for insects and small prey. Their diet consists mainly of moths, beetles, and other flying insects, which they capture in flight. Flammulated Owls are incredibly skilled aerial hunters, using their sharp talons and excellent low-light vision to catch prey on the wing.

Flammulated Owls are cavity nesters, often utilizing abandoned woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities. They may also use nest boxes. The female typically selects the nesting site, which is usually located high in a tree, between 6 and 30 feet above the ground.

Females lay 2 to 4 white eggs, one every one to three days. The incubation period lasts around 20 to 24 days, during which the female remains dedicated to keeping the eggs warm while the male provides food. Once the eggs hatch, both parents share the responsibility of feeding and caring for the chicks. The young owls grow rapidly and develop flight feathers within 24 to 28 days.

The fledging period for Flammulated Owls is relatively short, lasting about 3 to 4 weeks. During this time, the young owls begin to explore the area around the nest and practice their flight skills. After fledging, the juveniles continue to rely on their parents for food and guidance for a few more weeks.

Flammulated Owls are not known for long-distance migrations. Instead, they tend to move altitudinally, descending to lower elevations during the winter months in search of more favorable foraging conditions. During the breeding season, Flammulated Owls are found in higher elevations, typically between 4,000 and 10,000 feet, in montane forests and woodlands of relatively moist cool upland slopes below timberlines dominated by large coniferous trees. They often inhabit mature forests with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, as well as open meadows or clearings. During the winter, they move to lower elevations, often occupying lower montane or foothill forests.

Suggested nest box dimensions for flammulated owls vary. They might be inclined to nest in boxes designed for similar sized owls such as pygmy owls, saw-whet owls, and boreal owls. Cover the nest box with tree bark camouflage for these quiet, elusive owls. See owl nest boxes here.