Northern Saw-whet Owl

Aegolius acadicus
A Northern Saw-whet Owl specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

At just 8 inches in length, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is one of the smallest owl species in North America. Like most owls, this species possesses short legs, rounded wings, large yellow eyes, and a disk-shaped face. Apart from its small size, it may best be identified by its coloration, which is brown spotted with white above and white streaked with brown below and on the face. The Northern Saw-whet Owl breeds primarily in Southern Canada and the northern tier of the United States. Breeding populations also exist at higher elevations in the western U.S. and in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains in the southeast. During winter, this species expands its range southward and into lower elevations, including the coastal southeast, the Great Plains, and the southwest. The Northern Saw-whet Owl inhabits forests across the northern part of the continent, and each geographic region in which this species may be found has forests with a different mix of trees. Regardless of the exact species present, this owl prefers forests that are composed either entirely of evergreen trees or of a mix of evergreen and deciduous tree species. In winter, individuals which move outside the species’ breeding range are less tied to a particular habitat type, relocating as new sources of prey become available. Like most owls, the Northern Saw-whet Owl hunts small mammals, including mice, shrews, and voles. This owl uses its excellent hearing to locate prey on the ground in order to fly down and capture it with its talons. Also, like most owls, this species hunts almost exclusively at night, making it difficult to observe. Northern Saw-whet Owls are most visible roosting high in trees during the day or while producing toot-like calls at dusk.

DC Information

Rare winter resident, most common November to February. Usually inhabits forests with thick understory in winter. Female is larger than male.

Specimen Information

Date:  6/1/1875
Collected By:  R Ridgway/HK Coale
Locality:  Chicago, IL
Sex:  Female juvenile
Catalog ID:  84435

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species