How did the Northern Saw-whet Owl get its name?

by OBDK on March 08, 2021

These birds get their name because they sound like someone sharpening, or whetting, a mill saw.1

Northern Saw-whet Owls are around the size of a robin, standing between 7 and 8 inches tall and weighing between 2 and 5 ounces. They have brown feathers on their back and head, and their fronts are covered in white feathers with some brown streaks. Their heads are also spotted with white.2


Where do they live?

These owls are very good at laying low and not being discovered.3 They live in forests in North America and for the winter, they’ll migrate to the central and southern areas of the United States.2 Their feathers help them stay hidden during the day, while they wait for dusk to fall so they can hunt.4

They prefer to make their nests in natural cavities or in nest boxes.4


What do they eat?

Northern Saw-whet Owls feed on small rodents that also live in the same forests as they do. Their first preference is deer mice, but will also eat voles, shrews, and even squirrels.3 During times when there is plenty of prey, these owls may kill several mice in a row and then store them away to eat later during the winter. They’ll defrost them by sitting on them, just like they do with their eggs!4


Do they face any threats?

These birds are pretty widespread, and so aren’t considered endangered or threatened.3&4 However, they still face big threats from other birds or animals like Boreal Owls or squirrels for nesting sites. They also need to watch out for other raptors, like Northern Goshawks, who want to make a meal out of them.4

Learn more with our Northern Saw-whet Owl Poster! 
Perfect for owl lovers of all kinds! It measures 18x24 and is perfect for classrooms, offices, and bedrooms. 

Sources & Further Reading:





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