Sometimes a species may seem to go extinct, for decades or even more than a century. Then these species will come back, be rediscovered. Somehow every member of the species went unobserved by humans all that time. It happens more often than you might at first think. The popular name for these types of species is “Lazarus taxon”, because they seemingly come back from the dead. One species we’re going to be talking about today is one such Lazarus taxon: the forest owlet of India.
The forest owlet was first officially described by zoologists in 1873, and only a little over a decade in 1884, they disappeared. For a long time they were thought to be extinct. That was, until 1997, 103 years later, that Pamela Rasmussen found another. While the numbers of forest owlets left are tragically low, they are a highly endangered species and are in great danger from deforestation, it wasn’t only their scarcity that kept them hidden for so long. Richard Meinertzhagen, an ornithologist who is famous for his scientific fraud and theft of important specimens, had falsified records of the forest owlet’s discovery. Not only had he given deliberately incorrect information, he had also stolen the specimen from the British Museum and resubmitted it under his name to a different location, thereby giving himself credit for the discovery.
As their name might suggest, forest owlets are very small, standing less than a foot high. Compared to the rest of their body, though, the head and beak of the owlet are large. This species is native to central India. As a bird of prey, they perch near the tops of trees and wait for their prey to move close enough to snatch up. The diet of the forest owlet is broad, consisting of rodents, reptiles, frogs, and other small mammals. Forest owlets are diurnal and are not usually active until well into the day, usually around 10 in the morning. The need warmth and will bask in the sun at the tops of trees in the winter.
Forest owlets have a large number of different vocalizations but unlike other birds, the calls of owlets are fairly short and soft. Some of the different vocalizations they have include alarms, chicks asking for food from their parent, the arrival of a mate back to the nest, and a general greeting. They can also be territorial and signal when someone is encroaching on their space.
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