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Flammulated Owl Life History



Flammulated Owls breed in dry mature mountain forests of ponderosa pine or other large coniferous trees, often interspersed with aspen or oak. Relatively open, mature stands of Douglas-fir, fir, limber pine, and yellow pine, including burned forests, also attract this species during the nesting season, especially where natural cavities for nesting are available. In many parts of its range, Flammulated occurs on middle and upper slopes, avoiding lower elevations and valleys. Migrants have been found in a wide array of habitats, including desert oases, riparian corridors, and city parks. Wintering ecology in this species is little known, but scientists think that most birds winter in Mexican pine forests, probably in habitat very similar to breeding habitat.

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Flammulated Owls eat mostly insects, especially owlet moths, geometrid moths, crickets, grasshoppers, bugs, and beetles. On rare occasions they feed small birds, bats, mice, or shrews to nestlings, but the species appears to specialize in insects, which they hunt only at night, mostly in the crowns of large trees or in clusters of understory shrubs. They are visual hunters and capture flying insects on the wing, mostly in short flights from a perch. Studies in Colorado indicate that males tend to forage in small (1-acre) areas on south-facing ridges and slopes.

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Nest Placement


The species nests in cavities in trees exclusively but will occasionally accept nest boxes. The female selects the nest site, after the male shows her the available cavities within his territory. These are usually old woodpecker nest sites or sometimes natural cavities in larger trees.

Nest Description

No nest as such; eggs are laid directly on the bottom of the cavity chamber.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-3 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.1-1.3 in (2.8-3.2 cm)
Egg Width:0.9-1.1 in (2.4-2.7 cm)
Incubation Period:21-24 days
Egg Description:

White with faint creamy tint.

Condition at Hatching:

Covered in white down, eyes closed.

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Although not very musical, the flat hoot of Flammulated Owl is repeated so frequently that it almost counts as “song” and clearly seems to mark territory. Males call mostly from hidden spots within the crowns of very large pines. Courting males call repeatedly, and when females reply with a mewing call, soliciting food, the male presents her with prey. After eating it, she lowers her body and sways side to side, inviting copulation. Afterward, the female may give a twittering call and the two often preen one another. Males feed females intensively before egg-laying, helping her to rapidly gain weight. Flammulated Owls are mainly monogamous and seem to form long-term pair bonds. A long-term (1981-2007) Colorado study found that three-fourths of individuals in pairs stayed with their mate through consecutive nesting seasons, mostly in the same territory as in previous years. A similar study in New Mexico (1996-2002) found that 40% remained together over the study period. Nevertheless, polygyny (males with 2 mates) has been documented, as well as extra-pair copulations (which are thought to be rare in owls). Males are territorial and will chase intruders from the territory, but intense combat appears to be rare. Territories vary greatly in size; an average might be about 5–6 acres.

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Restricted Range

There is little information on Flammulated Owl populations, but they appear to be declining. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 5,500. The species rates a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is on the Yellow Watch List for its restricted range. Flammulated Owl has a low reproductive rate and is found mostly in older forests, which can be under pressure for logging. In addition to habitat loss or degradation through selective logging, Flammulated Owls may be sensitive to pesticides that affect their insect prey.

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Linkhart, Brian D. and D. Archibald McCallum. (2013). Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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