Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 19, 2023


Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl Again Protected Under Endangered Species Act

Little Owl Threatened Across Arizona, Texas, Mexico

TUCSON, Ariz.— Following multiple petitions and lawsuits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today again protected the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act after it lost protections 17 years ago.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today determined the pygmy owl is threatened throughout southern Arizona and Texas, and the Mexican states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Colima, Jalisco and Chihuahua. The owls are threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, climate change and invasive species, especially fire-promoting grasses.

“The fierce little cactus ferruginous pygmy owl needs our care and protection and after a long fight it finally got it,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we lose this owl, we’ve lost the Sonoran Desert and so much more. We have to protect more of the natural world, invest in environmental restoration and phase out fossil fuels to halt this extinction crisis.”

Following a 1992 petition from the Center, the pygmy owl was protected in Arizona from 1997 to 2006. Developers sued the Fish and Wildlife Service and the owls lost this protection.

In Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico, the pygmy owl is immediately threatened by urbanization and the planting and rapid spread of invasive buffelgrass. The grass spreads fire that eliminates the columnar cactuses and other desert vegetation the pygmy owl needs. Numbering in the low hundreds in Arizona and declining in Sonora, the pygmy owl is also threatened by droughts driven by climate change.

In Texas and Chihuahua, Mexico, the pygmy owl is threatened by agricultural development and human population growth, which is fragmenting populations. Further south in Mexico, pygmy owl numbers are higher, but habitat loss to urbanization and agriculture is ongoing and the species is expected to continue to decline in our rapidly warming world.

“I’m so glad the pygmy owl is again protected, but it shouldn’t have taken this long or required multiple lawsuits to get here,” said Greenwald. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is badly broken from years of political interference. It needs new leadership and reform to get the agency back to efficiently protecting species and addressing the extinction crisis.”


Cactus ferruginous pygmy owls are generally less than 7 inches long, weigh less than 2.6 ounces and are reddish brown overall with a cream colored and streaked belly. They have two dark brown or black spots on the back of the head, giving the appearance of eyes.

They are secondary-cavity nesters, meaning they use cavities excavated by woodpeckers and other species in saguaro cactuses and trees. They prey on a variety of insects, lizards and small mammals. Like other pygmy owls, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl emits a series of toots when establishing a territory or calling to mates.

Photos of the pygmy owl are available for media use.

Cactus ferruginous pygmy owls. Credit: National Park Service. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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