Animal of the Issue: Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Owl-banding stations are a source of migration information for the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Photo Credit / Stephen Kloiber
Owl-banding stations are a source of migration information for the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Photo Credit / Stephen Kloiber

Owl-banding stations are a source of migration information for the Northern Saw-Whet Owl.
Photo Credit / Stephen Kloiber

BY BRIANA MAGISTRO

SC Staff Writer

Among the smallest owls in the world is the Northern Saw-Whet Owl.

Saw-Whets are named after their call, a series of high-pitched toots, that sounds like a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone.

As mentioned earlier, Saw-Whet Owls are very small. Their wingspans reach just less than two feet across, and they are only about eight inches high. Because of their small size, they are preyed upon by larger birds, like the Eastern Screech Owl and various hawks.

Saw-Whet Owls are strictly nocturnal, and are therefore more difficult to study and track. Owl-banding stations, such as Sky Top in eastern Pennsylvania, are the main source of migration information on these birds.

Owl-banding stations set up harmless nets, which the owls fly into. Staff can then go out and band the animals or track the owls that have already visited their site. This allows the staff to see what is happening with the owl population.

These owls have a cylindrical figure and lack ear tufts. Their feathers vary in color, and may be anywhere from brown mottled to gray to white. They have large eyes, which lay deep in their heads. Their facial expression has been compared to that of a cat.

Prey for these owls includes mostly small rodents, but may also include small songbirds.

The mating season runs throughout spring. At this time, the owls are living in dense coniferous forests, mostly for nest protection from predators. Coniferous trees provide deep cavities, which are the perfect nesting sites for Saw-Whet Owls.

The owl does not typically get along with neighbors, though, especially squirrels. There is a constant fight over tree cavities between the two animals.

After a male and female have paired, they raise a clutch of eggs together. The female will tidy, protect, and warm the nest, while the male goes to do the hunting work.

After the baby owls start to grow their feathers, the mother will leave the father to take care of the offspring while she goes to find another mate. These birds do not mate for life and will find new mates every year.

During the off-season, the Saw-Whet Owl will migrate to various parts of the country in order to curb territorial fighting.

Look out for these little owls if you venture in the woods at night during the off-season. It may be best to listen for their distinctive call.

Join an owl-banding station one night to get up close and personal with these feathered friends.

Email Briana at:

bmagistro@live.esu.edu

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