• Barn Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
    Eastern Screech
  • Elf Owl
  • Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
    Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
  • Great Grey Owl
    Great Grey
  • Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned
  • Long Eared Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
    Northern Hawk
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
    Northern Pygmy
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
    Northern Saw-whet
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Spotted Owl
  • Western Screech Owl
    Western Screech
  • Western Screech Owl
    Whiskered Screech Owl


Northern Saw-whet OwlBecause of their nocturnal nature, owls can be tricky to locate. But with a bit of detective work, this is one little owl you just might be able to find.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl ranges over much of North America, so your chances are good that one might live near you. Use your observation skills and see if you can track one down. Pay attention to the clues; first listen. Do you hear a repeated, monotonous whistle, especially at night in late winter or spring? Follow your ears to the next clue. Is the sound getting closer?

Now look down, especially at the base of coniferous trees. Saw-whet owls leave lots of evidence beneath their favorite perching trees. All owls regurgitate the undigestable parts of their food, coughing up grayish pellets, filled with fur, feathers, and bones. And, like all animals, owls also deficate, leaving behind a spray of whitewash (otherwise known as bird doo-doo). When you find pellets and whitewash, you’ve hit the jackpot!

Start looking up and see if you can spot a little reddish-brown owl peering back at you. Saw-whet owls are unique in allowing humans to come quite close before flying away. All of your detective work will pay off with the thrill of seeing the tiny Saw-whet Owl up close!

Maps provided by The Birds of North America Online and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  • A small reddish-brown owl with a large, round head, yellow eyes, black beak, and feathered feet

    Males: head is warm brown with white spots on nape, belly is white with reddish streaks

    Females: same as males

    Young: less streaking; dark brown head and chest, reddish belly; conspicuous Y-shaped white marking above and between eyes
  • Females generally larger and heavier than males

    Height: Males 17-21cm (6.7-8.3 in), Females 17-21cm (6.7-8.3 in)

    Weight: Males 75g (2.6 oz), Females 100g (3.5 oz)

    Wingspan Both: 46-56cm (18.1-22.0 in)

  • Range: inhabits much of North America; from southeast Alaska and Queen Charlotte Islands in the west to Newfoundland in the east, south to Arizona and North Carolina; even found in mountainous regions in central Mexico

    Habitat: mostly coniferous forests; sometimes wooded riparian areas, swamps, and bogs

  • Mostly deer mice; commonly voles: sometimes small birds and insects
  • Heard mostly during late breeding season

    Males: a monotonous series of whistles, all on the same pitch; also a short series of “ksew-ksew-ksew” notes, often compared to the back and forth sound made when filing a saw

    Females: softer and less consistent than males

  • Nest Site: cavity nester; nests in holes made by woodpeckers; will also use nest boxes

    Eggs: 5-7 eggs, laid asynchronously

    Incubation: 27-29 days
  • Mostly nocturnal, occasionally diurnal; catches prey with feet and swallows in chunks, starting with the head

Northern Saw-whet Owl Range Map

Northern Saw-whet Owl Range Map

Northern Saw-whet Owl Audio

Northern Saw-whet Owl Facts

Other Names: Saw-whet Owl, Queen Charlotte Owl
Family: Strigidae
Closest Relative: Boreal Owl

Conservation Status

Not globally threatened.


Learn more about ORI's research on this species.