NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL FACTS:
A small reddish-brown owl with a large, round head, yellow eyes, black beak, and feathered feet
Males: head is warm brown with white spots on nape, belly is white with reddish streaks
Females: same as males
Young: less streaking; dark brown head and chest, reddish belly; conspicuous Y-shaped white marking above and between eyes
OTHER NAMES: Saw-whet Owl, Queen Charlotte Owl
CLOSEST RELATIVE: Boreal Owl
NORTHERN SAW-WHET SIZE:
Females generally larger and heavier than males
Height: Males 17-21cm (6.7-8.3 in), Females 17-21cm (6.7-8.3 in)
Weight: Males 75g (2.6 oz), Females 100g (3.5 oz)
Wingspan Both: 46-56cm (18.1-22.0 in)
NORTHERN SAW-WHET RANGE:
Inhabits much of North America; from southeast Alaska and Queen Charlotte Islands in the west to Newfoundland in the east, south to Arizona and North Carolina; even found in mountainous regions in central Mexico
NORTHERN SAW-WHET HABITAT:
mostly coniferous forests; sometimes wooded riparian areas, swamps, and bogs
NORTHERN SAW-WHET DIET:
Mostly deer mice; commonly voles: sometimes small birds and insects
NORTHERN SAW-WHET VOICE:
Heard mostly during late breeding season
Males: a monotonous series of whistles, all on the same pitch; also a short series of “ksew-ksew-ksew” notes, often compared to the back and forth sound made when filing a saw
Females: softer and less consistent than males
NORTHERN SAW-WHET NESTING:
Nest Site: cavity nester; nests in holes made by woodpeckers; will also use nest boxes
Eggs: 5-7 eggs, laid asynchronously
Incubation: 27-29 days
NORTHERN SAW-WHET HUNTING HABITS:
Mostly nocturnal, occasionally diurnal; catches prey with feet and swallows in chunks, starting with the head
NORTHERN SAW-WHET CONSERVATION STATUS:
Not globally threatened
NORTHERN SAW-WHET RESEARCH:
Read about the Owl Research Institute's Northern Saw-Whet Owl study in RESEARCH.
Northern Saw-Whet juvenile
© Kurt Lindsay
© Kurt Lindsay
NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL DISTRIBUTION IN NORTH AMERICA
Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The Northern Saw-whet Owl ranges over much of North America, so your chances are good that one might live near you. Use your observation skills and see if you can track one down. Pay attention to the clues; first listen. Do you hear a repeated, monotonous whistle, especially at night in late winter or spring? Follow your ears to the next clue. Is the sound getting closer?
Now look down, especially at the base of coniferous trees. Saw-whet owls leave lots of evidence beneath their favorite perching trees. All owls regurgitate the indigestible parts of their food, coughing up grayish pellets, filled with fur, feathers, and bones. And, like all animals, owls also defecate, leaving behind a spray of whitewash (otherwise known as bird doo-doo). When you find pellets and whitewash, you’ve hit the jackpot!
Start looking up and see if you can spot a little reddish-brown owl peering back at you. Saw-whet owls are unique in allowing humans to come quite close before flying away. All of your detective work will pay off with the thrill of seeing the tiny Saw-whet Owl up close!