Northern Saw-whet Owl photo by Jon Christopher Meyers

Northern Saw-whet Owl

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.


Meet our resident Northern Saw-whet Owls:

Tristan was found in northwestern Oregon in October 2006. He was brought to a veterinary clinic with an injury to his left shoulder. He was transferred to Wildlife Rescue of the North Coast, who spent six weeks trying to repair and immobilize the wing. Unfortunately, his wing did not heal sufficiently to allow flight and migration. He joined the Cascades Raptor Center team in January 2007.

Adoptive "Parents" of Tristan:
Art & Debby Hertz  •  Diana Little  •  Karen Leggett  •  Boshart Family  •   Eugene Garden Club   
Jack Wright  •  In memory of Tom & Alma Klemens   •   Nadia Singh  •  Chyanna Amborski  
Eli Moch  •   Sienna Davis  •  Lily Jones  •   Nancy Olson  •  Stephanie Gonzales •  Liz Parker  
Dan Rousseau & India John  •   Robyn Hathcock  •  Seneca Family of Companies  •  Ronda Coyle 
Trudy, Max & Mazey Flairs  •  Mindy Spencer  •  Lara Kidoguchi & Jake Burroughs
Robbie & Ollie Osborn  •  Kodi & Juni Umansky-Sickafoose •  Sandra Nunemaker  •  Jaina Frank  
Jean Ellerhoff  •  Matt Danskine  •  The Robinson Family  •  Julian Yook  •  Madilynn Lee  
Ignorance Was Bliss Podcast  •  Jared McKiernan  •  Gail Newton


Scientific Name

Aegolius acadicus


Length: 8" ave.

Wing Span: 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. 

Most Common Problems

Collisions with vehicles, as well as flying into windows. Loss of prime breeding habitat is also a problem for this little woodland owl.

Range Map

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:

Dan Gleason
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design
CraneDance Communications
Book Production/Design