Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

Northern Saw-whet Owl


  • The northern saw-whet owl is distinguished by its smaller size. It measures about 20 centimetres (8 inches) long.


  • This owl has darker plumage and a streaked forehead.
  • The reddish brown plumage on the upper parts is streaked with white around the face, and is splotched with white on the neck.
  • The tail is banded with three bars.
  • The breast and abdomen are white with heavy brown streaks.
  • The saw-whet inhabits woods of the parkland, foothill and Rocky Mountain natural regions.
  • The total range extends south from Alaska to all but the southeast United States.
  • Southward movement in winter is casual.
Natural History


  • Prey includes small rodents found on the forest floor.

When Active

  • The northern saw-whet owl is exclusively nocturnal, active only at night.
  • Because this owl is completely nocturnal and hunts and roosts close to the ground, it is very seldom seen.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behavior

  • During the breeding season, old woodpecker holes are selected for nesting.
  • Five to six eggs are an average clutch size.
Conservation and Management


The northern saw-whet owl is classified as Secure in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current management

  • Like all birds of prey in Alberta, the northern saw-whet owl is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act.
Similar species
  • Boreal Owl
    The northern saw-whet owl can be confused with the boreal owl, but the northern saw-whet owl is smaller and has streaks instead of spots on the forehead.
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
    The saw-whet owl is larger and lighter in colour than the northern pygmy owl. The northern pygmy owl also lacks the streaks on the forehead.
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Updated: Apr 29, 2010