Northern Saw-whet Owl © Heather Demick

Take 5: Who’s Seen a Saw-whet?

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is an small, elusive creature. It clocks in at no more than 4 ounces and is about the size of a robin, but is still a fearsome hunter of small mammals (and occasionally small birds). Nocturnal and secretive, it is rare to spot one in the wild, but ongoing banding and tracking efforts have shown they are far more abundant than they seem.

Wondering about the name? It comes from the sound they make, which early birders like John James Audubon compared to the sound of a saw blade being sharpened (“to whet” is to hone or sharpen a blade).

While many saw-whets overwinter in Massachusetts, a good number also migrate south for the winter, and usually around this time of year and into early November. Keep an eye on cedar trees or dense thickets for owls roosting during the day, and you might just get lucky, but in the meantime, here are five photos of saw-whet owls you can enjoy right now.

Northern Saw-whet Owl © Heather Demick
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Heather Demick
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Jennifer Johnston
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Jennifer Johnston
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Diane Koske
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Diane Koske
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Janice Berte
Northern Saw-whet Owl © Janice Berte
Northern Saw-whet owl at the Drumlin Farm bird banding and research station
Northern Saw-whet owl at the Drumlin Farm bird banding and research station

5 thoughts on “Take 5: Who’s Seen a Saw-whet?

  1. Kathleen Firth

    I was very surprised and so happy to actually look up at 2 little birds on the telephone wire leading to my home and realized they were saw whet owls! they looked down on me, and I looked up at them with my mouth open and completely stunned. maybe they were as interested in me as I was in them. this was about 5 years ago. I think they were young siblings, but who knows- that was my only encounter with saw whets in my life. North Attleborough, MA

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  2. Bernadette

    I actually, 2 yrs ago during ++winter Sandwich Cape Cod storm, helped the Saw-whet .He hit the deck glass door so hard that he fell head first into 8 inches of icy snow…unable to extricate himself, I rapidly ran (in bare feet ) around to the protected front door, down the front deck, around down the driveway and through the pool area fence. Down the covered, icy underneath paving stones leading to the deck where the helpless tiny critter was still not moving. (Thank heavens I was a former ice skater in the 50’s and 60’s). I gently wrapped my hands around him as
    I placed him near the warmth of my body. About 5+ minutes later…movement. He rested in my open hands for another good 10 minutes before he flew around the corner to conifer protection. Needless to say, I never felt my bare feet Until I trekked back through the snow into the warmth of my home. Adorable,so small big eyed feathered friends….the image of the tiny, but chunky owl still a vivid Image.

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