What is about 6 inches long, weighs a couple of ounces, has round, penetrating, golden eyes, and is one of the most ferocious predators found in the Sonoran Desert? It is the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, a resident of desert woodlands thick with legume trees, like ironwoods, and columnar cacti, like saguaros. The habitat of this unusual desert creature has been gradually eaten away over the last 30-40 years by human development, and more recently, by the border wall and many years of drought associated with climate change.
One of the reasons this owl’s status is so precarious has to do with its unusual hunting behavior. While most owls are nocturnal, cactus ferruginous pygmy owls are daylight predators. They sit and wait, under the cover of dense vegetation, and swoop down when prey is within striking distance. This strategy conceals the tiny owls from larger daytime predators, like hawks, and from their prey (lizards, insects, and small rodents), allowing them to literally get a jump on their next meal. But this strategy requires dense thickets of vegetation in which to hide from predators and sneak up on prey. Encroachment by human housing developments, construction of the border wall, and the persistent drought associated with climate change all contribute to the destruction of the type of habitat the owls need to survive.
Because of the loss and fragmentation of its habitat, in 1997 the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl was declared Endangered under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As a result, from 1997-2006, cactus ferruginous pygmy owls and their habitat benefitted from federal protection. But a lawsuit brought by the National Association of Homebuilders resulted in the de-listing of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl in 2006, which eliminated its federal protections.
The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl is in trouble, but we can take action to save it. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering re-listing this subspecies as Threatened, which would restore its federal protections, including protecting habitat critical for its survival. A public hearing will be held from 6-7:30 P.M. Mountain Standard Time on January 25, 2022. All of us can attend via Zoom and say that we want this owl to be protected again. Click here to register to attend this meeting.
We know our followers love the Sonoran Desert and all its creatures. Please take a few minutes to help protect this tiny, charismatic owl. The public comment period (December 22, 2022-February 22, 2022) permits us to say why we do or do not support the re-listing of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as Threatened. If you have evidence supporting your position, please include it, or choose from the talking points listed with instructions on our NEWS page. Click here for instructions for submitting comments and for talking points to use in your comments.
Please take the time to help protect this beautiful desert owl. And if you can make a donation to support our work protecting Sonoran Desert species threatened with extinction, click here to DONATE.