Pearl-spotted owlet -- 珠斑鸺鹠 (Glaucidium perlatum)

Pearl-spotted owlet perched on branch
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Pearl-spotted owlet fact file

Pearl-spotted owlet description

GenusGlaucidium (1)

One of sub-Sahara’s commonest owls, the pearl-spotted owlet is characterised by two black patches with white rims on the back of the head, which appear as false eyes. This distinctive feature may help this diminutive owl to evade predators by making it appear larger than it actually is (2) (4). Otherwise, the plumage is cinnamon-brown, with white spots on the upperparts, and white on the underside with broad brown streaks. The flight feathers are dark brown with light rufous bars, and the comparatively long, brown tail has incomplete white bars (2). The facial disk is whitish, while the bill and eyes are both yellow (2) (5). The two sexes are very similar, but juveniles are identified by a less rufous plumage, with fewer white spots on the head and a shorter tail (2)

Two subspecies are recognised, with Glaucidium perlatum licua being distinguished from the nominate subspecies, G. p. perlatum, by a greyer, and more heavily spotted plumage (2) (6)

Also known as
Pearl-spotted owl.
Glaucidium passerinum, Strix perlata.
Chevêchette perlée.
Head-body length: 17 – 20 cm (2)
Average wingspan: 40 cm (2)
Male weight: 36 – 86 g (2)
Female weight: 61 – 147 g (2)

Pearl-spotted owlet biology

As Africa’s most diurnal owl, the pearl-spotted owlet can be observed hunting both during the day and at night (4). A generalist feeder, it will consume a variety of prey types, with lizards, rodents, insects and bats all targeted. Despite its relatively small size, powerful talons allow the pearl-spotted owlet to hunt prey much larger than itself (4) (8). Whilst hunting, this tiny predator may be seen bobbing its head up and down and flicking its tail in excitement (9).

The pearl-spotted owlet breeds between August and November, with breeding peaking between September and October. Pairs fiercely compete with other birds, such as woodpeckers and barbets, for holes in trees to make nests (2) (9). Nests may be reused each season, and pairs will maintain territories, often by destroying the nesting sites of competitors. Between two and four eggs are laid, and the female will incubate the eggs for some 29 days, with offspring fledging after a further 31 days, and becoming fully independent two weeks later (2) (5).  


Pearl-spotted owlet range

The pearl-spotted owlet is a resident of much of sub-Saharan Africa, with an extremely large range. G. p. perlatum ranges from Gambia and Senegal in West Africa, towards western Sudan in East Africa, with G. p. licua ranging from eastern Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, southwards to north, and eastern South Africa (2).


Pearl-spotted owlet habitat

The pearl-spotted owlet is most abundant in dry, open woodland, but is also found in wooded savanna, shrubland and dense forest, avoiding moist forest and the most arid areas (2) (7).


Pearl-spotted owlet status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Pearl-spotted owlet threats

As a resident of arid open woodland, a habitat less impacted by human encroachment than others, the pearl-spotted owlet does not appear to be effected by traditional threats, such as deforestation and habitat degradation (7). However, populations in the western most areas of the species’ range are believed to be less abundant, and may be less resistant to subtle changes to habitat or prey abundance (2).


Pearl-spotted owlet conservation

Abundant throughout much of its extensive range, the pearl-spotted owlet is not under immediate threat of extinction (1). However, there is a lack of data on threats and trends throughout the species’ range, particularly for western most populations. Further surveys are therefore required to accurately determine the conservation status of this species (10)

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on owl conservation projects see:

For more information on bird conservation projects in Africa see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



Authenticated (07/05/10) by André Botha, Manager of the Birds of Prey Working Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa.



Active during the day.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Nominate subspecies
The subspecies indicated by the repetition of the specific name. Thus, in this case Glaucidium perlatum perlatum is the nominate subspecies of Glaucidium perlatum licua.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (January, 2010)
  4. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  5. The World Owl Trust (January, 2010):
  6. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (January, 2010)
  7. South Africa Bird Atlas Project 2 (January, 2010)
  8. Dixon, J.E.W (1981) Diet of the owl Glaucidium perlatum in the Etosha National Park. Madoqua, 12: 267-268.
  9. Biodiversity Explorer: The web of life in South Africa (January, 2010)
  10. Birdlife International (January, 2010)

Image credit

Pearl-spotted owlet perched on branch  
Pearl-spotted owlet perched on branch

© Rob Nagtegaal /

Rob Nagtegaal


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