9 Rarest Owl Species in the World

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Owls are elusive creatures that are not seen very often. These nocturnal birds have been associated with myths and legends throughout human history.  Around 250 owl species are there in the world. They are divided into two families.

Owls with heart-shaped facial disks belong to the barn-owl family, scientifically known as Tytonidae. 16 species of barn owls are identified. All the other owl species are from the typical-owl family, Strigidae. 

Four owl species of the typical-owl family are listed as extinct by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and six are considered critically endangered. Climate change, fragmentation of habitat, and poaching are some of the leading threats to their survival.

Here we list 9 of the rarest owl species that still exist in the world.

9. Karthala Scops Owl

Estimated number of mature individuals: 2300
Conservation status: Endangered
Geographical range: Comoro Islands (Grande Comore)
Scientific name: Otus pauliani
Karthala Scops Owl
photo source: www.owlpages.com

The entire population of Karthala Scops Owl is restricted to a small area of Mount Karthala in the Islands of Comoro, northwest of Madagascar. 

During the last few decades, rapid deforestation has occurred in this area due to agricultural activities, livestock farming, and the construction of roads and railroads. It has significantly impacted the population size of this species. 

Earlier this owl species was considered a subspecies of the Madagascar Scops Owl, but further studies determined it to be a different species.

Karthala Scops Owl has two color morphs, a light, and a dark. The lighter morphs are greyish brown, whereas the darker ones are dark chocolate brown.

Did you know?

Owls have tube-shaped eyes that are completely immobile. It gives them binocular vision.   


8. Blakiston’s Fish Owl

Estimated number of mature individuals: 1000- 2500
Conservation status: Endangered
Geographical range: China, Japan, Russian Far East
Scientific name: Bubo blakistoni
Blakiston’s Fish Owl
photo source: wikipedia.org

Blakiston’s Fish Owl, also known as Blakiston’s Eagle Owl, is the largest living species of owl. Mature birds measure 24 to 28 inches in total length and weigh 6.5 to 10.1 pounds.

The facial disk of this large owl is tawny brown with narrow black stripes. The eyes are yellow, and the eyebrows are white. The body is darker brown with blacking brown stripes all over.

The underparts are pale brown with darker stripes and light brown wavy cross bars.

Land development, dam construction, and loss of riverine forests are the major threat to this owl species. 

Did you know?

Although classified as a fish owl, the Blakiston’s Fish Owl shares more similarities with eagle owls in terms of structure than fish owls. 


7. Sula Barn Owl

Estimated number of mature individuals: 250-999
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Geographical range: Indonesia (Maluku)
Scientific name: Tyto nigrobrunnea
Sula Barn Owl
photo source: www.owlpages.com
Sula Barn Owl
photo source: www.owlpages.com

Sula Barn Owl, also known as the Taliabu Masked Owl, is native to Sula Island, Maluku, Indonesia. Information about this barn owl species is scarce as it is known from only one specimen collected in 1938. Although there are not many confirmed sight records, the species seems quite well-known to local villagers.

The face of a Sula Barn Owl is pale reddish brown. The color becomes darker towards the eyes. The underparts are brown with white speckles. The tail is brown with three darker stripes.

Logging and wood harvesting are the main threats to the Sula Barn Owls. Once the species was considered endangered. However, after an assessment done in 2012, it was reclassified as vulnerable.

Did you know?

Despite having a very small population size, Sula Barn Owls have shown tolerance to substantial habitat degradation. Thus, it is inferred that the population size is not undergoing continuing declines.  


6. Long-whiskered Owlet

Estimated number of mature individuals: 250-999
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Geographical range: Peru
Scientific name: Xenoglaux loweryi
Long-whiskered Owlet
photo source: 

The population of this tiny owl species is restricted to a small area of the Andean mountains in Northern Peru. 

The body of the owl is brown with a whitish belly and eyebrows. They have large orange-brown to amber-orange eyes with blackish-brown eyelids. They have fan-like whiskers at the sides of their facial disk but no ear tufts.

The first specimen of Long Whiskered Owlet was captured in 1976 and was described the following year by John Patton O’Neill and Gary R. Graves. After that, the bird had never been observed for about three decades. Finally, in 2007, some scientists could spot the bird three times during the daytime. 

Did you know?

A recent study established that the Long Whiskered Owlets is a sister species to the Northern American elf owl.  


5. Forest Owlet

Estimated number of mature individuals: 250-999
Conservation status: Endangered
Geographical range: Central India
Scientific name: Athene blewitti
Forest Owlet
photo source: macaulaylibrary.org

Forest Owlet, also known as the Forest Little Owl, is endemic to the forest areas in Central India. They are tiny and stocky. Their wings and tail are heavily banded, and the crown doesn’t have any spots. Their eyes are yellow, and their facial disk is pale. 

They have distinct vocalizations and make several different calls. The song calls are mellow and short.

This owl species was first described in 1873 by Allan Octavian Hume, a British scientist who worked in colonized India. The species was thought to be extinct for many years, as it was sighted after 1884. A century later, it was rediscovered by American ornithologist Pamela Rasmussen.

Did you know?

The last collected specimen of Forest Owlet before its rediscovery had been stolen from the Natural History Museum by a British soldier and ornithologist. He then resubmitted it with false information. Scientists for years conducted searches in the locality mentioned in that false label.


4. Serendib Scops Owl

Estimated number of mature individuals: 150-700
Conservation status: Endangered
Geographical range: Sri Lanka
Scientific name: Otus thilohoffmanni
Serendib Scops Owl
photo source: wikipedia.org

Serendib Scops Owl is a tiny owl species found in southwest Sri Lanka. It was first described in 2004 by Sri Lankan ornithologist Deepal Warakagoda. Serendib Scops Owl is the first new bird species discovered in Sri Lanka since 1868.

This small owl doesn’t have a distinct facial disk. The color of the bird is reddish-brown. The underparts are paler. The whole body features blackish spots that are surrounded by paler rings. Their eyes are orange-yellow with black rims. 

Did you know?

Twenty Sri Lankan rupees banknotes feature the image of Serendib Scops Owls.    


3. Moheli Scops Owl

Estimated number of mature individuals: 260
Conservation status: Endangered
Geographical range: Comoro Islands (Moheli)
Scientific name: Otus moheliensis
Moheli Scops Owl
photo source: cdn.download.ams.birds.cornell.edu

Moheli Scops Owl is small owl species endemic to the Island of Moheli, a part of the Union of Comoros. 

The species has two color morphs, rufous and dark brown.

The rufous morph is reddish-brown in color with weak bars and streaks, and the dark brown morph has darker brown plumage, which is boldly marked. Both morphs have greenish-yellow eyes, small ear tufts, and black beaks.

Did you know?

Besides deforestation, Black rats are the single major threat to Moheli Scops Owls. The rats not only eat their eggs and infants, but they also compete with them for food. 


2. Pernambuco Pygmy Owl

Estimated number of mature individuals: 0-49
Conservation status: Critically endangered (possibly extinct)
Geographical range: Brazil (Pernambuco)
Scientific name: Glaucidium mooreorum
Pernambuco Pygmy Owl
photo source: palmoildetectivez.files.wordpress.com

The Pernambuco Pygmy Owl is a small owl species found in the Pernambuco state in Brazil. It is one of the rarest owl species that is classified as critically endangered, and possibly extinct. 

A mature Pernambuco Pygmy Owl is about 5.1 inches long. Their face features brownish and whitish streaks. The rest of the head is dark brown with white spots. The center of the chest is white, while the sides are yellowish brown with white spots. Their eyes are yellow.

Pernambuco Pygmy Owl is native to the most modified part of the Atlantic Forest. The area has experienced rapid deforestation, mainly due to sugarcane farming. Along with habitat loss, illegal hunting is also a major threat to this rare owl species on the brink of extinction. The species was last seen in 2001.   

Did you know?

Pernambuco Pygmy Owl was initially thought to be a subspecies of the East Brazilian Pygmy Owl. However, in December 2002, scientists confirmed that it was new and independent species.


1. Siau Scops Owl

Estimated number of mature individuals: 0-49
Conservation status: Critically endangered
Geographical range: Indonesia (Siau Island)
Scientific name: Otus siaoensis
Siau Scops Owl
photo source: wikipedia.org

Siau Scops Owls are endemic to Siau Island, located in the north of Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is a critically endangered species with a population of 49 individuals or less. Due to this the Siau Scops Owl is one of the rarest owl species in the world. 

Agricultural activities, logging, and wood harvesting are primary threats to the survival of this species. Siau Scops Owls are very small. They are dark brown in color with a paler chest. 

The first specimen of this bird was collected in 1866. In 1873, it was described by German scientist Hermann Schlegel. The bird couldn’t be spotted during recent surveys since 1998. However, some local reports, including videos, suggest that it is still not extinct.

Besides, it has been noted that some Asian scops owls can survive in degraded habitats. 

Did you know?

Although the International Ornithological Committee (IOC) identifies Siau Scops Owls as a distinct species, others think it to be a subspecies of either Moluccan Scops Owls or Sulawesi Scops Owls.   

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