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:As Zina said, finding the owl in this cell phone shot is a bit like Where’s Waldo — this is one brick-feathered owl.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.