Saw Whet

Of all the many services provided here at Backyard & Beyond, bird identification tops the list. Want to know what kind of owl that is in your backyard? You could look it up, of course, like my friend Zina Saunders did when she saw an owl outside her window. This was in the air/light shaft of her apartment building in the Inner Borough (as we call Manhattan with great fondness). After some research, she thought it was a Northern Saw-whet (Aegolius acadicus). She was right. In this case, I merely confirmed from her picture:Aegolius acadicus As Zina said, finding the owl in this cell phone shot is a bit like Where’s Waldo — this is one brick-feathered owl.Aegolius acadicus Does it look a little like Vanessa Redgrave circa 1967? The round head and the V pattern on the face are the clues here.

The Saw-whet is probably the most common of our northeastern owls, but because it’s so small (with an 8″ length) and, generally, nocturnal, it’s not often seen. They usually spend their days nestled in trees and bushes (less so in apartment building valleys). It also has a reputation for being fairly tame. I’ve heard one ornithologist argue that what we’re witnessing isn’t tameness (which is our definition, after all) but rather the bird’s defensive/aggressive pose: it’s staring down all comers.

Here’s a Saw-whet I saw in da Bronx a couple years ago.

There’s an even smaller owl in the U.S., the southwestern Elf owl; at 5.75″, it’s smaller than a House sparrow.

What to do when an owl shows up in your backyard:
1) Don’t panic.
2) Leave it alone.
3) Marvel.

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5 Responses to “Saw Whet”


  1. 1 Zina March 21, 2013 at 9:43 am

    I love the idea that he was “staring down all comers” — I think you’re right! He looked pretty ferocious, perched on that little thingamig in my building’s air shaft!

    Thank you so much for sharing this information about our little visitor. He’s gone today. I miss him.

  2. 3 Trixie March 21, 2013 at 10:13 am

    That is so wonderfully amazing~

  3. 4 Out Walking the Dog March 22, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    What a spot the little owl chose, and what a figure it cuts!

  4. 5 natureintheburbs March 23, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Wow, I wouldn’t expect to see that there!


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