For the first time, four rare pygmy owls have been successfully hatched at the Phoenix Zoo's Arizona Center for Nature Conservation.
Tara Harris, director of conservation and science at the center, said the owls would join the three current breeding pairs in the program once they are fully fledged.
"Right now our focus is really on learning as much as we can from these birds in our care, and then also helping our agency partners with surveys of wild pygmy owls in Arizona," she said.
As its name implies, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl (Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum) is small — under 7 inches and 3 ounces — and reddish-brown-to-gray in color.
The nonmigratory bird lives in river-bottom woodlands and scrublands areas of the Sonoran Desert populated by palo verde and cacti.
Although the Endangered Species Act no longer lists the species as endangered, it remains a Species of Greatest Conservation Need, according to Arizona's State Wildlife Action Plan.
The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl's range has been declining since the 1970s due to habitat loss and degradation from livestock grazing.
Experts estimate fewer than 100 remain in Arizona.