California Raptor Center

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
(Aegolius is a Greek word used by Aristotle for a kind of owl acadicus is Latinism for ‘of Acadia’ now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the type of locality).

Size: Length: 7-8 in Wingspan: 17-21in        

Weight: Female: 65-124g (~0.14-0.27lb) Male: 54-96g (~0.12-0.21lb)

Lifespan: Captive owls may live as long as 17 years. In the wild they may live to 7 years or more.

ID: Northern saw-whets have dark-colored bills, eyes with yellow-pigmented irises, heavily feathered legs and feet, a tail with three bars, and a wide, reddish-brown body with white streaks on the abdomen. Their large, round heads are reddish brown to brown, have a large, grayish facial disk in the center and are streaked with white on the top. The neck is speckled with white. Northern saw-whet owls depend on this plumage for camouflage while roosting and hunting. Male and female saw-whet owls are similar in appearance, though females are slightly larger than males. Juveniles are chocolate-brown with a pattern of large white spots above their bills that extend over their eyes. Juveniles complete their first molt and grow adult plumage when they are one year old. They also become sexually mature and may begin breeding at one year old.

Hunting: Northern saw-whet owls hunt at night. They hunt from a low perch, where they watch and listen for prey. Saw-whet owls have excellent night vision, and excellent hearing. When they see or hear prey, the owl flies quickly to the prey, catching it with it’s feet. Saw-whet owls tear their food apart with their beaks, and eat it in pieces. If they catch a large animal, they may store the leftovers to eat later.

Prey: Northern saw-whet owls mostly eat small mammals. They also eat some small birds and some insects.

Breeding: Nests are usually in natural cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes, often ones made by Northern Flickers and Hairy Woodpeckers. The female lays 4 to 7 eggs at two-day intervals. She also incubates the eggs, beginning soon after the first egg is laid. The male brings her food and defends the territory. The eggs hatch after 26 to 28 days of incubation. The chicks are fed until they are about 18 days old. After this, the female leaves the nest to roost elsewhere, and the male, and sometimes the female, continues to provide food to the chicks. The chicks leave the nest when they 4 to 5 weeks old. They are able to fly reasonably well at this time, but continue to be fed by the male for at least a month afterward. The young become independent from the parents 6 to 8 weeks after fledging.

Range: Northern saw-whet owls are found only in North America. Their breeding range includes southern Alaska, southern Canada, most of the United States and some high elevation sites in central Mexico.

Status: Northern saw-whet owls are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act and CITES Appendix II. They are ranked as a species of least concern by the IUCN.