Recently, a group of American birdwatchers were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime sighting when they observed the rare Peruvian Long-whiskered Owlet, a species previously seen only by a handful of people. This owlet is so rare that it wasn’t even discovered until 1976, and since then, the bird seems to generally prefer to be out of sight and out of mind, including a 26-year period without any confirmed sightings at all.
But in a seven-week period between September 21 and November 8, 2010, six tour groups, including visitors from the USA, Canada, the UK, Holland, Costa Rica, and Sweden, have seen the owlet near the Owlet Ecolodge at the Abra Patricia Reserve in northern Peru.
The species’ habitat has been protected there by American Bird Conservancy and its Peruvian partner ECOAN.
The scientific name for the Long-whiskered Owlet – Xenoglaux loweryi – means ‘strange owl’ and refers to its small size, long bristles around the beak, and delicate feathers extending into ‘whiskers’ outwards from the face.
“The fact that the Long-whiskered Owlet is nocturnal, only lives in this area, and exists in very small numbers means that the visitors had a very exciting, once-in-a-lifetime birding experience. We are now starting to understand more about its habits and hopefully in the future more people will be able to see this, one of the ultimate birds for any birder,” says Sara Lara, international programs director for American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the leading bird conservation organisation in the US.
The Long-whiskered Owlet is ranked as Endangered under IUCN-World Conservation Union criteria due to its restricted range (approximately 73 square miles or 55,000 acres) and the high rate of deforestation that threatens its remaining habitat. The Owlet is mainly known from the mountains around Abra Patricia, triggering recognition by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) of this area as one of 587 sites worldwide where conservation is critical to prevent species extinctions.