Pygmy owl

This is a pygmy owl, seen here in Altar Valley, near Three Points. This image is from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

A federal judge in Arizona has ruled the federal government must reconsider endangered species protection for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

Wednesday's decision came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife over a 2011 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that denied endangered species protection for the reddish-brown owl that burrows in Sonoran Desert cactuses and trees.

There reportedly are fewer than 50 of the small birds in Arizona, including some in Southern Arizona.

Environmentalists say the owl is threatened by urban sprawl, invasive species, fire, drought and other factors across the Sonoran Desert.

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The species was listed as endangered from 1997 to 2006 before that protection was removed following a lawsuit by developers.

Wildlife groups again petitioned in 2007 to protect the owl.