One of the smallest owls, the
saw-whet is 7 to 8 inches long, has a wing span
of 17 to 19 inches, and weighs up to 5.5 ounces.
It has no ear tufts, but does have a prominent
facial disk. The face is outlined in brown and
white, with the white forming a distinct
"V" shape from the base of the black
bill up and over the eyes. The underparts are
white streaked with brown. Both sexes are similar
in plumage, but the female is larger than the
male. Juveniles lack white markings on the back,
except for small amounts on the wings and tail.
The saw-whet owl breeds across all of
southern Canada and throughout the Great Lakes
region, and from southern Alaska through the
western states into central Mexico. Winter
populations can be found throughout most of North
America. Populations in the northern and eastern
portions of the range are far more migratory than
in the western and southern portions, and
juveniles are more likely to migrate than adults.
Saw-whets live in a variety of
forested habitats, but prefer riparian regions
for breeding and areas with dense cover for
roosting. They are only found in urban areas
during migration. Although most common at higher
altitudes, they can be found down to 1,000 feet
above sea level.
Mice make up the majority of
the saw-whet's diet, but other small rodents are
taken as well. Saw-whets will also take the
occasional bird, as well as insects and spiders.
As are most owls, the saw-whet is capable of
taking prey as large as itself, and has been
known to prey on small flying squirrels, rock
doves, and other similarly sized animals.
Although it hunts almost
exclusively at night and, therefore, has the
excellent night vision characteristic of owls,
the saw-whet relies more on hearing than on sight
when hunting. An opportunistic hunter, it
generally waits on a tree branch or other
suitable perch and listens for the right
movement; once prey has been located it will then
use its vision to zero in on its meal and grab it
with its strong feet and sharp talons.
It is not uncommon for a single
saw-whet to take more prey in one night than it
can consume. Excess prey is often cached for
later consumption, allowing it to "store
up" for lean times.
Although saw-whets are
generally monogamous, pairs usually only stay
together for one breeding season, which runs from
March through July. The male typically picks the
nest site, which is almost always an abandoned
woodpecker hole, and then attracts the female by
Four to seven eggs are laid per
clutch, and are incubated exclusively by the
female for 27 to 29 days. Although he takes no
part in incubating the eggs, the male does bring
food for the female, as well as for the
newly-hatched chicks. He will continue to bring
food for the chicks for up to a month after
hatching. Chicks fledge at 4 to 5 weeks, and are
fully independent at 10 to 13 weeks. It is
believed that saw-whets are sexually mature by
the end of their first year.
genus & species Aegolius acadicus
All About Birds www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Saw-whet_Owl/id
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