Pygmy-Owls in or near Turrialba

I’m still trying to clear my thoughts about several past reports of mine regarding these tiny owls, which are frequently seen in daylight hours. John and Milena Beer have recently again obtained excellent photographs of two of the three species found in Costa Rica. These three are: Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum), principally found at lower elevations on the Pacific side of Costa Rica; Central American Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium griseiceps) (no photographs shown), found only at lower elevations and therefore infrequently in the Turrialba area; and Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium costaricanum), found only at high elevations. Without good photographs or expert testimony (as to what was both seen and heard), I now find it very difficult to accept many of the unsubstantiated reports for these species listed historically in e-Bird for our area. Fortunately, there are nowadays lots of very credible and more recent reports from experienced local observers.

On the basis of these, the respective distributions have now been fairly well mapped. G. brasilianum, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, turns up mostly on the Pacific side of the country and thus infrequently in our area. Unlike the other two species it has a streaked, not spotted, crown. The large numbers of bird tours attracted to CATIE and to the Rancho Naturalista near Tuis mean that this species has been reported more often than the other two, and mostly at fairly low elevations. as in this most recent sighting:

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in broad daylight, June 30, 2020, at Peralta, Río Reventazón, near Turrialba; photo by John Beer

A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was reported by local expert Mercedes Alpízar (Rancho Naturalista) at this same location a little more than a week previously. It has to be said that this location is at the extreme eastern edge of the Costa Rican range of this species.

I must therefore now question an earlier pygmy-owl report with photos taken by a non-birding friend at La Flor de Tres Equis, just above the Río Reventazón and quite close to the aforementioned Peralta location. These photos were taken on May 21, 2014, in the middle of the afternoon. I myself did not have the opportunity to see the bird first-hand. I initially assumed this to be G. griseiceps, Central American Pygmy-Owl, because this species is found principally in the Caribbean lowlands. However, because of the absence of spots on the crown, as seen below, I now tend to think that it is perhaps an immature Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, lacking however the typical streaked crown of this species. The difference in the colour of the respective plumage of the birds shown here can be explained because the former is the more typical rufous morph, while here below we have perhaps the greyish-brown morph. Judge for yourselves:

Stunned pygmy-owl found at La Flor de Tres Equis, Cartago Province; photo by Tammy Lundquist-Kowalchuk

Here’s a full frontal view:

Bemused pygmy-owl on Turrialba’s Caribbean side; photo by Tammy Lundquist-Kowalchuk

I welcome comments from readers.

By contrast, G. griseiceps, the Central American Pygmy-Owl, also a low-elevation species, is limited to the Caribbean side of the country, yet I can find so far no well-substantiated report of this species from our area, nor indeed from the whole of the Province of Cartago. I’m not sure on what basis some very few earlier reports of this bird have been accepted. The reports nearest to Turrialba with absolute verification seem to be from Las Brisas near La Alegría de Siquirres.

I will leave this species for a future post and live in hope!

Regarding the third of our pygmy-owl species, G. costaricanum, Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, there is much more clarity since it is the only one reported from very high elevations. Substantiated reports, as far as I can determine, come only from high elevations, but at least one is from just below 1300 m, at Ojo de Agua in the Province of Limón, very close to where the following beautiful photos were taken of a brown-morph bird in March 2018 on the road to Los Bajos del Volcán:

Note the spotted crown of the brown-morph Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl; photo by John Beer
A coy look from the Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl; photo by John Beer
Final shot of the Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl, brown morph, on the road to Los Bajos; photo by John Beer

Just two months later at practically the same location John and Milena found another Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl but this time a rufous-morph specimen. The variation in plumage gives the impression of a quite different species. The crown spots are here not so clearly distinguishable but, as already noted, no other pygmy-owl species is to be found at this elevation.

Rufous-morph Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl on the Los Bajos road; photo by John Beer

Regarding pygmy-owls I still have further issues to resolve because I have been visited by a pygmy-owl at my house in San Antonio on at least 6 occasions (1 in 2010 and the rest between November 2015 and February 27, 2016. On the latter occasion I wrote: “Calls are in mostly triplets, perhaps 5 sets; 2 birds calling to each other.” Since my house is located at 1300 m the possibility must be considered of some or all of these birds having been Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls. All these visits were nocturnal, with just one good view of a bird by flashlight. However, my notes indicate neither spots nor streaks on the crown. All my other encounters mention the tooting call, which could be either species. I am also assuming of course that the Central American Pygmy-Owl would not be found at such an elevation on the Turrialba Volcano slope.

4 thoughts on “Pygmy-Owls in or near Turrialba

  1. How lovely it is to see so many images of the pygmy owls! ‘We’ have the Peruvian/Pacific Pygmy Owl which looks much like the Ferruginous… Have you ever noticed that ‘miniature face’ eyes/bill at the top of the bill?

    I’m reading this off line and will read it in greater depth when back at the apt.


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