Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
This is a small woodland species, with a relatively large head, a short tail, and long wings. This little owl has a prominent facial [Courtesy of Barbara Gleason] disc of feathers, and lacks the ear-tufts seen in the larger Western Screech Owl. Females are larger than males, and the sexes look alike. Juveniles are a chocolate brown color above, a bright rust color below, with a white triangle on the forehead. Adult owls of both sexes have upperparts that are reddish-brown with white-speckles, and underparts that are white with a soft, rufous-brown streaking. The pale buff-colored facial disc frames white, v-shaped eyebrows, and a black bill. Flight is usually low and direct from one point to another, on rapid wingbeats with the wing held mostly below the horizontal.
Length: 8″ ave.
Wingspan: 17″ ave.
Weight: 2.8 oz. ave.
State and federally protected.
These owls are found in a variety of woodland habitats, from dense coniferous forests, mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, riparian woods, to wooded swamplands. In breeding season, they favor mature to old-growth stands of trees for nesting, and roost during the day in or near the nest hole. In winter, these owls most often choose a daytime roost close to the end of a low evergreen branch, where they are easily approachable.
These little owls hunt most actively in the semi-nocturnal (dawn and dusk) hours, but are also nocturnal hunters. Rodents are their favorite prey; they locate potential meals from a low perch, then swoop down to pounce on prey on the ground. Other small mammals, birds, and insects are also taken.
The distinctive call for which the Northern Saw-whet Owl is named is a rasping, metallic, screeching sound like a saw being sharpened: shhwweee!….shhwweee!….shhwweee! A rising, cat-like, three-part screech. In breeding season, their main call is a very long, mellow, low whistled note poopoopoopoopoopoopoopoopoo…, rapidly repeating, up to 130 times per minute.
These owls are primarily cavity nesters, and use old woodpecker holes in mature to old-growth stands of trees. They are also known to nest in dense vegetation in some areas, where tree cavities aren’t available.
Collisions with vehicles, as well as flying into windows. Loss of prime breeding habitat is also a problem for this little woodland owl.
Breeding range extends from southeast Alaska across southern Canada, and down into the western US, west of the Rockies. Winter range covers the same areas, but some owls will migrate further south and east across the US.
Special Thanks for range maps:
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design