Northern Saw-whet Owl

Aegolius acadicus


Our Northern Saw-whet Owl is housed at the Animal Resource Center (ARC).

Fascinating Facts

Physical Characteristics

The northern saw-whet owl is a very small, short-bodied owl with no ear tufts. They look small when perched but appear larger in flight because of their nearly 2 foot wingspan. Their ears are asymmetrical which allows them to detect the exact location of prey. Eyes are large and bright yellow. As with many birds of prey, males and females look similar, but females are larger.

Saw-whet owls are reddish-brown with creamy streaks on their breast and mottled backs and wings. They have a grayish facial disk and a white “y” shaped area around the eyes. Juveniles have a dark brown upper plumage, reddish-brown bodies, and almost black facial disc.

Lifespan is up about 7 years in the wild, and up to 16 years in captivity.


Northern saw-whet owls are found across the US and through western Canada to Alaska, as well as at high altitudes in central Mexico. They inhabit varying types of woodlands, but seem to prefer coniferous forests.

Their diet consists mostly of small rodents, birds, and large insects.

Social Behavior

Northern Saw-whet Owls are strictly nocturnal, with activity beginning at late dusk. During the day, they depend on plumage for camouflage when roosting in foliage, usually close to the ground.

They are typically monogamous, but not when food is abundant, and seem to pair for only one season.

Nesting begins in late winter to early spring, while breeding usually takes place from March to July. Females will lay 5-6 eggs in an abandoned woodpecker hole or natural cavity and incubate for 26-28 days. The female northern saw-whet owl does all the incubation and brooding, while the male brings food to the nest. Chicks fledge after 4-5 weeks but will remain near the nest for 6-8 more weeks. At this time the female may help the male bring food for young but will often leave to nest with another mate.

Status In The Wild

The northern saw-whet owl is listed as least concern by the IUCN. They are common and have a vast range but are still vulnerable to habitat loss.

Animals & Exhibits