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Northern Saw-whet Owl Invasion Update

I made a trip back down to Chillicothe last night, to re-visit the banding station that is focusing on capturing and banding Northern Saw-whet Owls. Thanks, as always, to Kelly Williams-Sieg, Bill and Donna Bosstic, and Bob Placier for being so gracious about hosting guests. With endless amounts of patience, they allow us hangers-on to ogle the tiny hooters, and ask all manner of questions. These small owls of the North have proven to be outstanding avian ambassadors, undoubtedly being the "spark" to who knows how many folks to get them interested in birds. But, the data that is being generated by the efforts of this group and many other banding stations that are part of Project Owlnet is also offering previously unknown insights into a secretive species that we hadn't known very much about.

And man, I was glad some owls turned up last night! We had a rather celeb cast on hand, partly on my invite, and we would have felt bad if no owls showed. They did, fortunately, with three birds being caught. One had been banded the previous night; the other two were new birds. This brings the total capture since October 10th - 28 nights of banding - to 93 different birds! That's over three an evening, on average. This is definitely the year os the saw-whet.
As always, the owls were over the top in terms of being photogenic. Megan Nadolski, a professional photographer who was along to photodocument the owls and the operation for an upcoming magazine article, took over 800 photos! Many of them were stunners, too. I bumbled along with my less than mad skillz and - by comparison to Megan's - rinky-dink camera, and captured a few images to share with you below. We are going to take people over to see this operation - and with luck, real owls - the evening of the upcoming Conservation Conference on December 1st. We'd welcome your attendance at that event, and go here for all of the details. Weather depending, we'll head over to see the owls after Scott Weidensaul's talk that evening. The owl site is less than one-half hour from the Deer Creek Lodge, the conference venue.
Northern Saw-whet Owl. An almost shockingly "cute" animal. Inestimable numbers of "oohs and aahs" have been provoked by these elfin beasts.
This is the last view that a Deer or White-footed Mouse would have of this world, were it to glance over its shoulder in time. As cute as these owls may be, they are nonetheless complete predators fully equipped to take out mammalian prey, and they do so with gusto. The two mice mentioned above are small species in the genus Peromyscus, and undoubtedly saw-whets eat many when down our way. In their boreal forest breeding range, the owls likely also feed heavily on Red-backed Voles, Clethrionomys gapperi. This small vole is common throughout much of the saw-whets' breeding range, but was quite rare and local in Ohio, with only old records from the northeastern corner of the state.

Measuring an owl's foot. Not for a shoe fitting, but to gather additional data that might help in sexing birds. Sometimes, telling males from females is not that easy and banders are still learning ways to distinguish the sexes. These owls are incredibly tolerant of people, and the banding process. Generally, they just lay there and look at the people with a rather curious attitude. I suspect that for many owls, we are the first humanoids they have ever seen, and that in conjunction with their calm dispositions leads them to view us rather peacefully. Sometimes, upon release an owl will be placed on someone's arm. There it will sit, sometimes for several minutes, before deciding to fly back into the dark forest.

Something rather amazing that we've found is that saw-whets seem to greatly enjoy having their necks rubbed. That's what is going on here, and the owl has hooded its eyes and is pushing back into the fingers of the petter, much in the manner of a cat. I found that when I gently rubbed the sides of their heads, they also relished that feeling and would push hard against my fingers and practically become entranced. No, I don't think the micro-owls suffer much from their banding experience and I'd be surprised if their heart rates even elevate a beat.
If you make it down for the Conservation Conference, I hope you'll get to come over and experience these owls firsthand, too.


Anonymous said…
i have a male saw whet he has a pupil that is kinda buggered from a car or a window he flew into, he is very friendly and i caught him by puttin my finger on his legs and pushin and he hoped on my finger and was very easy to check out and he can fly but he went back to the ground and i brought him in my old bird avairy were he has been for 1 night .. if you could email me back at with how i can let him go after he heals his eye yup what i should and shouldnt do with him. i sexed him like you would a quail as i use to raise gamebirds.. but any info you could give me would be great thanks
Anonymous said…
I have produced a 30-minute interview with ornithologist Peter Rhoades Mott (past president of the Florida Audubon Society and past board president of the New York City Chapter of the Audubon Society) for our local public access cable television station in Princeton, New Jersey. I am writing to ask if I may use your photograph of a Saw-Whet Owl to illustrate a story he tells. Please reply to our station manager at Princeton Community Television:
Anonymous said…
Love those little fellas
Anonymous said…
I'm so interested in them.. where can I see them alive?
Anonymous said…
so cute as i am ;)
Anonymous said…
Is it possible too own one of these little guys if I can provide a habitat for it?
Anonymous said…
A saw whet just hit our window and landed on our deck. It was evening, he must have been drawn to the light in the window. Luckily, he was just stunned. We were able to hold him as he came too. So neat to see him up close, and then find all this great information about him. We let him go and he flew into a nearby tree.
Anonymous said…
Omg me too! They are the cutest little things! I wish I could get one!
Anonymous said…
Awww! Poor guy hope he's ok I don't get many owls where I am

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