Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Saw-whet Owl is a species of common owls native to many parts of North America. Known for their ‘cute’ looks and small size (nearly the size of a robin), these birds can carry on with their rhythmic tooting song without a break. This species is common in various zoos from around the world, and are often seen sharing friendly terms with humans.

Scientific Classification

A. acadicus
Aegolius acadicus

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

A. acadicus
Aegolius acadicus

Physical Description

Size: Adults are 17–22 cm (6.7–8.7 in) in length with a wingspan of 42–56.3 cm (16.5–22.2 in).

Weight: Weighs between 54 and 151 g (1.9 to 5.3 oz), with the average being 80 g (2.8 oz).

Body Fur/hair/coat: The body is mottled and brown with a pale white facial disk, and a white-spotted head.

Face: The head is relatively larger than the body with the Y-shaped white marking in between and above the eyes, which is a unique feature of this species.

Eyes: Large, round eyes with the eyeballs seem to be surrounded by a bright yellow ring.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Tail: The tail is characterized by three bars.

Beak/Bills: The hard, durable bills have a twisted tip and are dark to blackish brown in coloration.

Sexual Dimorphism: No visual differences exist between the sexes, except that the females are a little larger.


In the wild, the saw-whet owls can live for up to 7 years, whereas in captivity, it is up to 16.


They are found only in the North American continent including southern Alaska, southern Canada, almost everywhere in the United States, as also, in some high-altitude regions in central Mexico.


The species primarily prefers forest areas, conifers, and groves including open forests with pine, spruce, fir, cedar, oak, poplar, or combinations, but usually close to swamps and with dense cover.

Northern Saw whet Owl Habitat

Northern Saw whet Owl Size

Classification of Species

The saw whet owl has two distinct subspecies, viz. the Aegolius acadicus acadicus and the Aegolius acadicus brooksi.


The northern saw-whet owls are solitary, nocturnal birds, and are active throughout the night. During the daylight hours, they quietly brood in thick vegetation. Some of these owls, however, may continue to reside in the same area around the year.

Saw-whet owls communicate with each other and perceive their environment by using their senses of sound, vision and touch, as also, detect their prey. They are entirely chance predators of the night when they wait on low perches, swooping down on their prey when the victims pass by.

These are migratory birds; however, due to their nocturnal, reclusive nature, their migration behaviors have poorly been understood. However, the majority of northern saw-whets move south in autumn.

Saw Whet Owl Calls and Sounds

The song of these nocturnal birds is a series of whistled toots. For communication, the northern saw-whet owl uses vocalizations and visual cues. During mating or copulation, the male northern saw-whet owls vocalize to attract a female. They form a pair by preening each other’s feathers, using touch. This act strengthens or establishes a bond between the two.


Saw-whet owls mostly prefer eating deer mice, though they consume other species too. The owls would also eat young squirrels, shrews, voles, large insects, and small birds.

Northern Saw whet Owl Baby

Pictures of Northern Saw whet Owl

Mating and Reproduction

Just before the commencement of the breeding season, the male northern saw-whet owl emits calls continuously at night to protect its territory and find out a mate. The nests are made in the tree cavities at the height of 15 to 60 feet above ground level.

They usually use abandoned cavities made by woodpeckers. However, they would also choose artificial nest boxes, but will use a single nesting site only once.

All of the incubation of the eggs and brooding is done by the female northern saw-whet owl, whereas, hunting and finding food is the duty of the male.

The incubation period lasts for 3 to 4 weeks, while the juvenile owls fledge when they are 4 to 5 weeks old. Gradually, they begin leaving the nest one by one, until the entire brood vacates the nest.

Life Cycle

The mother owl usually leaves the nest to roost in a different place just when the youngest nestling is around 18 days old. Then after, the father owl continues to supply them with food with the assistance of the older nestlings, as they help feed their younger siblings.

As the young ones learn to fly, they stay together close to their nest and are fed by the father for at least one more month. The female partner may find another mate and breed for the second time in one year.

Northern Saw whet Owl Images

Northern Saw whet Owl Pictures


  1. These owls have a very keen sense of hearing due to their vertically asymmetrical ears and different shapes of the ear-openings. Thus, by hearing alone, they can very accurately localize their prey even in complete darkness.
  2. Their brown plume helps them hide at ease in the trunk cavities.
  3. The feet have long, sharp claws (nails) to help them have a firm grip of the branch they are sitting upon, as also, of the prey.


The great horned owls have been seen predating upon the saw whet owls. However, other larger owl species are also thought to hunt them.

Conservation Status

The IUCN 3.1 has enlisted the saw-whet owl as ‘LC’ (Least Concern).

Northern Saw whet Owl in Flight

The Northern Saw whet Owl

Interesting Facts

  • Some people define their sound (call) with a saw being sharpened on a whetstone, from which it gets its name.
  • They have a long list of other common names like Acadian Owl (acadicus), Queen Charlotte Owl (brooksi), Kirkland’s Owl, Saw-filer, White-fronted Owl, Sparrow Owl, or simply, Whetsaw.
  • The oldest specimen of the species hold an age record of at least nine years and five months when it was captured in 2007 by a bird bander from Minnesota, and was re-released. The bird was originally banded in Ontario back in 1999.
  • They are one of the rarest birds that are brought up mostly by the father, when young (while the mother leaves the young ones). This is the opposite in case of many other animal species in the world.
  • Like most other owl species, they lack ear tufts above their heads.

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