Basic Facts About Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls

Cactus ferruginous pygmy-owls (Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum) are one of three subspecies of the ferruginous pygmy-owl. They have longer tails than most owls, are reddish-brown with a cream colored belly and have a crown that is lightly streaked. Cactus ferruginous pygmy-owls have yellow eyes and no ear tufts.


Cactus ferruginous pygmy-owls mainly eat small birds, lizards, insects, small mammals, frogs and earthworms.


Since 1996, authorities in Arizona have found anywhere from 12 - 41 adult pygmy owls a year, and in 2006, surveyors spotted only 28 owls. The population in northern Mexico is also imperiled, with a documented 4.4 percent decline per year for the past seven years, or a 26 percent decline overall since 2000.


Did You Know?

Unlike many birds, cactus ferruginous pygmy-owls don't migrate.

The range of the western subspecies stretches from central and southern Arizona south through Sonora and Sinaloa, Mexico. The eastern subspecies ranges from southern Texas and Tamaulipas to the remainder of states in Mexico. The remaining subspecies is found in South America.


They produce a monotonous call of a series of short notes and are partly nocturnal (active during the night) and diurnal (active during the day).


Mating Season: Late winter to early spring.
Gestation: 28 days.
Clutch size: 3-5 eggs.

In late in the winter or early spring cactus ferruginous pygmy-owls begin nesting in the cavities of trees or cacti like the saguaro and organ pipe. These holes have often been made by woodpeckers.Owlets leave their nest 28 days after hatching.

Threats to Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls

Cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl are threatened by habitat loss, particularly the loss of at least 85% of Arizona’s riparian areas due to development, livestock grazing, water withdrawal and other factors. Climate change may worsen other threats, particularly the spread of invasive species and an increase in fires.

One of the most important invasive species in the Sonoran desert is buffel grass, which was widely planted as a forage grass. In sharp contrast to the patchy distribution of native vegetation, buffel grass forms a continuous cover, allowing fires to travel across large areas, killing saguaros and other native plant species that are not well adapted to fires. The extended droughts being wrought by climate change are increasing this fire risk and further threatening the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl.

What Defenders Is Doing to Help Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls

Defenders of Wildlife is funding critical research on population trends of Cactus ferruginous pygmy-owls on both sides the U.S.-Mexico border. Unfortunately, this science continues to confirm that the status of the western population of pygmy-owls is in dire straits. In fact, research done in 2006 by University of Arizona Research Specialist Aaron Flesch showed that the pygmy-owl population in Sonora, Mexico – immediately south of the Arizona border – has suffered a 26 percent decline since 2000.