all about northern saw-whet owls

A male swet sings from his cavity, waiting for Mrs. Goodbar to arrive.

The female enters the cavity with the male still inside. 

Here she comes.

A female northern saw-whet watches as I approach her nest.

Another picture of innocence: a young saw-whet owl, approximately 4 weeks old.

Another male saw-whet filling the night with song.

Saw-whet Facts


The northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) is a smallish cousin of the boreal owl. Like the boreal, saw-whet owls are obligate, secondary cavity nesters, meaning that they have to nest in cavities and that they don't make those cavities.  Instead they rely on the work of the primary excavators such as flickers and woodpeckers to make the place they will call home for two months each year.  In addition, they are more than willing to make their home in a constructed nest box. The saw-whet is silent for most of the year.  During the breeding season (March through May), however, the male saw-whet can frequently be heard singing its monotonous, yet harmonic "toot..toot.. toot..." song as he attempts to attract a female to his selected nesting cavity.  Male saw-whet owls in northeast Minnesota average approximately 80 grams in weight, meaning they are 20-30 grams lighter than the male boreal owl.  Saw-whets dine primarily on small mammals including red-backed voles, deer mice, woodland jumping mice, and meadow voles. As winter approaches, saw-whets migrate south in mind-numbing numbers (see how many I trap in my modest back yard).  As winter takes it's last frigid breaths, the owls turn around and migrate to the north for a month or so of reproductive frenzy.  

Click on the map to see if the northern saw-whet owl can be found in a forest near you. 



Northern saw-whet owls appear to be very adaptable in the habitat they require for survival.  A constant variable and one that defines its distribution is the need for naturally occurring cavities or for artificial nest boxes.  I have found saw-whets nesting in older aspen, paper birch, white pine, and red pine in northeast Minnesota.  While the boreal owl prefers larger tracts of boreal forest habitat, the saw-whet is often found near smaller pockets of boreal forest in my study area, but never far from thick patches of lowland conifers.