NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL – (Aegolius acadicus)
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is our smallest owl on PEI, at around 20 cm (8 in.) long. It has a brown facial disk with white radiating stripes and a white ‘V’ between the eyes, which are yellow. The body is brown with some white spots, with under parts showing large brown and white stripes. The bill is black and the talons are covered with white feathers. Juveniles have warm brown under parts and brown upper parts without white spots. They already have the white ‘V’ between their eyes as well.
The bird owes its English name to the sound of its call, similar to a saw being grinded on a whetstone. The name ‘Owl’ is an onomatopoeia for the bird’s call and comes from Cockney. The Latin name ‘Aegolius’ refers to a bird of ill omen, and ‘acadicus’ refers to the fact that the first specimen was identified in the Maritimes (Acadie).
Northern saw-whet owls prefer mature forests and are true nocturnal birds of prey, which makes it difficult to find them. They mainly prey on mice and other small rodents. Outside the breeding season they will add small birds to their diet. Although they nest in holes in trees (natural or excavated by woodpeckers), they can also be attracted to human-made nest boxes.
The northern saw-whet owl breeds on PEI and is a year-round resident. Its presence on the island is common is spring and summer, and fairly common in fall and winter. Its overall year-round range covers most of Canada up to the tree line except Newfoundland, the Great Lakes region and north east USA, as well as parts of western USA. It will winter in the remainder of the USA except Florida and south Texas, but also in mountain forests of Mexico.
Conservation: The status of this small owl is listed as of ‘least concern’ by the IUCN likely because it is difficult to assess its numbers due to its secretive nature. However the species has known some local declines due to habitat loss from logging. It is therefore important to leave large dead trees standing in a forest to provide them with nesting spots.