Road-building and quarrying are likely to be threats, turning previously very quiet habitats into noisy disturbed places. In the UAE for example, extensive areas of mountain habitat have been defaced. It is unknown whether previously there were more Omani Owls there; now there are only one or two known sites, in the most remote and undisturbed places. In Oman the changes to habitat in the mountains have been less severe but there is certainly much more low frequency traffic noise in the main wadis, which is likely to be a problem for a species with a relatively quiet, low frequency voice, i.e. due to masking its vocalisations. I know nothing of threats in Iran.
I’m Mike Blair from the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia (OSME). I’m Listmaster for the OSME Region List (ORL) of bird taxa.
All the recent records of the Data Deficient Omani Owl Strix butleri are from the OSME Region, although the type specimen is from westernmost Pakistan. I think that the point I would emphasise about Omani Owl is that the confirmed record of sightings covers a considerable area that has seen summer day and night-time temperatures increases a circumstance that creates adverse effects on its mammal and reptile prey. Given its extreme habitat, it is already known to be a very thinly widespread species, vulnerable to local worsening of habitat conditions. These principles are already evident in the initial BirdLife Climate Change Maps (http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/climatechangemaps). I would argue that these circumstances should place it at least in the Near-Threatened category. Below is a summary, likely incomplete, of most of the records in version 7.1 of the ORL (July 2021), including full references of the formal papers and publications. The rest of the references are to information entries in Sandgrouse and Dutch Birding
Discovered in northern Oman in 2013 Robb et al 2013 and then named S. omanensis; a seemingly tiny relict population in remote and rocky ravine-wadis, further calling heard here Oct & Nov 2012, 3 newly-discovered pairs Apr 2013 Dutch Birding 36(3): p200. Second locality identified from calls heard (but not then attributed) 2008, 33km N of first discovery van Eijk 2013.
However, Robb et al 2016 showed by molecular analysis that the type specimen of S. butleri, the population attributed as S. omanensis and an owl trapped near Mashhad Iran Jan 2015 are all the same species.
Musavi et al 2016 confirmed that the Mashhad bird and another seen in 2000 near Minab Hormozgan Iran, and another found at Jam Game Guard Station Bushehr Iran are all Omani Owl: 3rd record Mehriz Yazd Province Oct 2015 Iran Bird Rarities Committee (IBRC), another Jan 2016 Bafgh, Yazd Province, one Bandar-e Lengeh, Hormozgan Province Aug 2016 IBRC another photographed there Jul 2018 Dutch Birding 40(4): 263 (DB); one at Shadab, Dezful, Khuzestan rescued & released Dec 2018 Sandgrouse 41(2): 251, only 95km from Iraqi border DB41(1): 56; first-ever juvenile photographed Kangan, Bushehr, Iran May 2019 DB 41(3): 198; one photographed Dez Dam Oct 2019 DB 41(6): 428; one at Gharbeh, Jam, Bushehr Nov 2019 DB41(1): 55; 3 juveniles photographed Rayan Valley, Bushehr June 2020 DB42(4): 278; one Lamerd, Fars, Jan 2021 IBRC.
1st record UAE Mar 2015 Emirates Bird Rarities Committee (EBRC), heard in Wadi Wurayah, Fujairah in mountainous area some 15km wide between the E89 (al-Halah) & E99 (al-Abidya) roads DB 39(3): 209, 2nd record there Mar 2017 EBRC, one photographed there Dec 2020 DB43(2): 152. Circumstantial evidence of its occurrence at the eastern end of the lower plateau of Jebel Sarah, northern Oman at roughly 23.3N, 57.1E: within a 1.5km circle to the E, there are at least 12 similar canyon complexes Jennings 2018. The previous attribution of the type specimen of Hume’s Tawny Owl was in error. The name omanensis is thus a junior synonym of butleri. NB The breeding distribution of S. butleri sensu stricto is unknown; other adjacent Strix taxa may yet be discovered.
van Eijk, P. 2013. Presumed second locality for Omani Owl. Dutch Birding 35: 387-388.
Jennings, MC. 2018. Breeding birds of Hayl al Jawari area, Jebal Sarah, Jebel al Akhdar Mountains, northern Oman. Sandgrouse 40(2): 162-175.
Musavi, SM, A Khani, A Khaleghizadeh and M Robb. 2016. The first confirmed records of Omani Owl Strix butleri (AO Hume, 1878) (Aves: Strigidae) from Iran. Zool ME
Robb, MS, AB van den Berg and M Robb. 2013. A new species of Strix owl from Oman. Dutch Birding 35: 275-310.
Robb, MS, G Sangster, M Aliabadian, AB van den Berg, M Constantine, M Irestedt, A Khani, SB Musavi, JMG Nunes, MS Willson and AJ Walsh, 2016. The rediscovery of Strix butleri (Hume, 1878) in Oman and Iran, with molecular resolution of the identity of Strix omanensis. Avian Res. 7: 7 doi: 10.1186/s40657-016-0043-4
With regard to the UAE, Magnus is correct that distressingly large areas of the Hajar mountains have been disturbed by quarries and new roads. There is zero likelihood this will change anytime soon and every chance that this problem will get worse. Although it seems almost certain that Omani Owl is resident and breeding in the the UAE there are only a couple of records, all from one area relative well protected and hard to access area; it is clearly present at very low densities and may be very localised. There is certainly no evidence that it is widespread. Recent greater attention to the Hajar Mountains at night has seen a number of additional sites found for Arabian Spotted Eagle-Owl but none whatsoever (to my knowledge) for Omani Owl, despite observers being on the look out for it. It seems unlikely that the species’ apparent rarity is solely due to that fact that it is extremely inconspicuous. In my opinion, a categorization of Least Concern, at least based on what we know in the UAE, would be based on a very large number of assumptions.
Ian Harrison, OSME Council Member, former Secretary and current member of the Oman Bird Records Committee.
Oscar Campbell’s comments regarding the species’ status in UAE also very much apply to its status in Oman. There is certainly zero evidence that it is widespread in the Western Hajar mountains of Oman. Moreover, the rapid opening up of the remoter areas of the country through infrastructure developments – for example, new road building, upgrading of dirt roads to tarmac roads, village expansion, housing improvements – has resulted in the rapid degradation of a variety of habitats throughout the country. Such developments have contributed in a major way to the Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos becoming functionally extinct as a breeding species in Oman (see Harrison & Green, Sandgrouse 43(1). The Hajar mountains of Oman, because of the terrain, have so far escaped major habitat degradation to a large extent (although habitats have certainly been lost or at the least degraded) but there is certainly no reason for complacency. The changes I witnessed between 1983-1992 and 1996-2007 were nothing compared to what I noted during my more or less annual visits between 2008-2017. Designating the species as Least Concern is therefore, in my view, extremely optimistic and is based on erroneous assumptions.
As a team leader in the Owl Monitoring Program of Wadi Wurayah National Park in Fujairah UAE, I would like to submit our experience with Omani Owl. Wadi Wurayah NP is the site in UAE where the Omani Owl was first recorded through calls in 2015 and then in 2017. After the extensive survey which has been running since 2019 in the park with an area of 220 square kilometres (22000 hectares), we could only get successful with two individual records that were 17 kilometres(10.56 miles) apart from deep inside the core zone area that is away from any human disturbance.
In three years we have been looking for Omani owl using sound recorders, camera traps, field surveys during day and night. We are still in the dark about its feeding patterns, its nesting sites, and its roosting preferences here. Extensive surveys done by other teams in Hajar Mountains from 2015 onward has not been successful in recording any site other than Wadi Wurayah NP that is well protected and hard to access but is also surrounded by urban areas making the NP a landlocked refuge for the owl.
I agree with the comments from Magnus Robb, Mike Blair, Oscar Campbell and Ian Harrison about the threats that the species face, rate at which the remote areas are being made accessible among other factors and if the species has to be moved from Data Deficient to any category it should not be a Least Concern as we are still in uncharted territory here in UAE.
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion. We greatly appreciate the time and effort invested by so many people in commenting. The window for consultation is now closed. We will analyse and interpret the new information and post a preliminary decision on this species’s Red List status on this page in early July.
Thank you once again,
BirdLife Red List Team
Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2021 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classifications outlined in the initial forum discussion.
The species appears to be widespread in Iran, which forms a large part of its range. While it may have a very small, threatened population in the UAE, this is reflected in the regional Red List.
There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline in mid-July, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.
The final 2021 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in December 2021, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.
The following information was received from Ali Alieslam by email on 01/07/2021:
My name is Ali and I am a freelance birdwatcher, bird researcher, photographer and a birdwatching tour guide in Iran. I have been travelling my country extensively for the last 17 years; and, as do have good knowledge of geography and bird distribution. I would like to give my sighting information as well as my understanding regarding the Omani Owl, the species condition and probable threats.
I recorded Omani Owl first when me, Jose Luis Copete and Dave Mac Adams were together for a friendly birding trip in Iran during December 2019/January 2020. We together found one Omani Owl at Bafgh Protected Area near Yazd. This was a different spot far from the previous record of this species in the Bafgh/kalmand & Bahadoran area, so obviously it was a different bird.
Later and during my own recce trip I recorded another active pair in copulation behaviour and very vocally-active at a place near Bandar Abbas in mid February 2020. Another bird has been recorded a few km away from the previous pair on the subsequent nights. I have recorded all sounds and hootings from the active pair and informed Magnus Robb and Jose Luis Copete re the presence and sound records. All birds have been recorded in completely new spots, so again, obviously they are not the same birds recorded in Iran.
I went on another recce trip during early November 2021 in mountains south of Khur Town in central desert of Iran with no findings whatsoever. Perhaps as it was early in the season for the birds to become vocally active!
Another recce trip was successful in March 2021 when I found another individual in Taft town near Yazd. Surprisingly the bird has been found in a Touristic recreational valley adjacent to the town!
I have found all the birds in a big valleys with a huge cliffside at least on one side! I assume the only threat would be mining and road construction as Magnus Robb said in the comments. However, as the bird habitat encompasses big valleys and high cliff-walls in more remote and hostile areas, my personal impression is that it would not be so fragile as it is the case with low-lands in other habitats in Iran.
My personal impression is that Omani Owls are widespread with low numbers but in many barren and rocky mountain habitats and valleys in the central plateaus of Iran . We do have a vast habitat with this characteristic after all.
I hope that the information could be of any help to have a better understanding of these interesting Owl statues.
Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN
The final categorisation for this species has not changed. Omani Owl is recommended to be listed as Least Concern.
Many thanks for everyone who contributed to the 2021 GTB Forum process. The final 2021 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in December 2021, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.
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