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Northern Saw-whet Owl Aegolius acadicus


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Northern Saw-whet Owl
credit: Brendan Lally/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Strigidae, Owls view all from this family

Description ADULT Has reddish brown plumage overall. Upperparts are beautifully patterned with pale spots, largest on back and wings, finest and densest on head; underparts are whitish, but heavily streaked rufous. Facial disc is more oblong than round, flushed buffy reddish around margins and with white "eyebrows" framing yellow eyes. JUVENILE Recalls adult, but has mainly reddish brown upperparts and orange buff underparts with white between the eyes.

Dimensions Length: 7" (18 cm)

Habitat Fairly common, but low-density breeding species in conifer and mixed forests. Interior northern populations migrate south for winter and some altitudinal migration is seen in otherwise rather sedentary populations.

Observation Tips Easiest to locate by imitating song (with practice, this is easy to whistle), and listening for response. Otherwise hard to locate, but usually indifferent to observers if discovered.

Range Western Canada, Northwest, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Plains, Southeast, New England, Alaska, Eastern Canada, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, California

Voice Male's territorial call (heard in spring) comprises an almost mechanical-sounding, repetitive series of piping whistles, fancifully recalling a saw being sharpened (whetted); a good 21st-century comparison might be an intruder alarm.

Discussion Endearing, plump-bodied owl with a large head and short tail. Entirely nocturnal and roosts in dense cover during daytime. Nests in tree holes. Sexes are similar.