The Flammulated Owl is a common owl of dry montane pine forest in the western United States and Mexico (McCallum 1994). Otus flammeolus is migratory and has a history of vagrancy to the southeastern United States (A.O.U. 1998). This species is the smallest of the Otusowls in North America and appears to be more closely related to the Old World scops owls than the larger New World screech owls (McCallum 1994). Flammulated Owl has a large trachea that allows for the unusually low frequency voice for a bird of its size (Miller 1947). The ventriloquial quality of this owl’s calls makes nest finding very difficult for atlasers.
DISTRIBUTION: Flammulated Owls are known to be summer residents in the Guadalupe, Davis, and Chisos mountains of west Texas (Lockwood and Freeman 2004). The TBBA data include records from the Guadalupe and Davis mountains only. Flammulated Owls are rare migrants on the plains east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains (McCallum 1994). In Texas, migrants have been documented in El Paso, Lubbock, Midland, and Val Verde counties (Lockwood and Freeman, 2004).
Flammulated Owls also breed in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico in the United States and Canada (McCallum 1994, Am. Ornithol. Union 1998) and in Mexico south to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The species winters in western Mexico south to Guatemala (Howell and Webb 2995).
SEASONAL OCCURRENCE: Flammulated Owls are reported as early as late March in Texas (Oberholser 1974). However males do not begin vocalizing until late April at similar latitudes in nearby states (McCallum 1994). When breeding birds leave is obscured by northern migrant passage. A specimen of this species was collected at Lubbock on December 7, 1950 and represents the only winter record for the state (Oberholser 1974). This bird was probably a late migrant rather than a wintering individual. Breeding individuals are known to remain on the breeding grounds through October (McCallum 1994).
BREEDING HABITAT: Flammulated Owls breed in mixed conifer-oak woodlands in Texas. In the Guadalupe Mountains this habitat is dominated by conifers, primarily Douglas fir. In the Davis and Chisos mountains the woodlands that support Flammulated Owl populations are more diverse and have a larger oak component. Throughout its range in the western United States Flammulated Owls are closely tied to ponderosa pines (McCallum 1994), however in Texas Pinus ponderosais either present in small numbers or absent (Chisos Mountains).
STATUS: The secretive nature of Flammulated Owls has made its status in Texas unclear, however recent information has helped to define it. The species is currently considered to be an uncommon breeding bird in the Guadalupe Mountains and a rare nesting species in the Chisos Mountains (Lockwood and Freeman, 2004). However, actual nesting evidence is almost nonexistent, no active nest has been reported from Texas. Fledglings have been found in the Guadalupe and Chisos mountains (Oberholser 1974, Wauer 1996). Until recently the status of Flammulated Owl in the Davis Mountains was unknown. Extensive surveys in the vicinity of Mount Livermore reveled the bird to be common to abundant above 2000 m (6500 ft;Peterson et al. 1991). This species appears to be a rare migrant east of the mountains at least to Lubbock and Tom Green counties, with vagrant records along the Gulf Coast (Lockwood and Freeman 2004).
Text by Mark W. Lockwood (Posted with updates 2006).
American Ornithologists’ Union. 1998. Checklist of North American birds, 7thed. Am, Ornithol. Union, Washington, DC.
Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.
Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
McCallum, D. A. 1994. Flammulated Owl (Otus flammeolus). In The birds of North America, No. 93 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Miller, A. H. 1947. The structural basis of the voice of the Flammulated Owl. Auk 64: 133-135.
Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Peterson, J. J., G. W. Lasley, R. B. Bryan and M.. Lockwood. 1991. Additions to the breeding avifauna of the Davis Mountains. Bull. Texas Ornithol. Soc 24: 9-48.
Wauer, R. 1996. A field guide to birds of the Big Bend, 2nd ed. Gulf Publishing, Houston, TX.