Deer in Spring Landscape

Northern Saw-whet Owl

photo of Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl, Aegolius acadicus
Photograph by Harold and Hal Wierenga

Like all Northern Saw-whet Owls, this one prefers the shelter of dense evergreen groves, as it is seen here amidst some pines at Sandy Point State Park. The Saw-whet’s name refers to the sound of its raspy call, which resembles the sound of a saw being sharpened. The species is distinguished by its rich reddish-brown coloring, dark bill, and relatively small size, averaging seven to eight inches in length. The Northern Saw-whet Owl is the smallest eastern North American Owl with a weight half that of the Eastern Screech Owl, from which it is distinguished by a lack of ear tufts. It feeds primarily on small mammals and is strictly nocturnal.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is found across North America, from southern Alaska through the central provinces of Canada to the Atlantic Coast. It is a rare sight in Maryland, near the southern extent of its breeding range. Because of its preference for northern forest habitats, it only breeds in the mountains of western Maryland, primarily Garrett County.  They are highly migratory and large numbers of saw-whet owls pass through and/or winter in Maryland each year. During winter they are most easily found in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain provinces rather than western Maryland.

A rather fearless bird by nature, the saw-whet owl was characterized by one ornithologist as “one of our most winsome birds. It has beauty, talent, character, curiosity, and personality.”

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