Sacajawea Audubon

The Skinny on the Saw-whet

Photo by Sami Swisher

















These two juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls were seen recently south of Bozeman.  Saw-whets are secondary-cavity nesters, using previously excavated cavities of the Northern Flicker, but will also use nest boxes.  They lay their eggs (3 to 7) directly on whatever debris has been left behind.  The female incubates the eggs for 27-29 days.   The male provides all the food for the female and young, until the female leaves the nest.  The female broods the young until the youngest nestling is 18 days old, then she roosts elsewhere.  After the young fledge (leave the nest), they remain together outside the nest, continued to be fed by the male, and sometimes the female as well, for at least one month.  Fledglings can fly immediately after leaving the nest, unlike many other owl species, which can only glide and clamber at that stage.  Juvenile Saw-whet Owls become independent within 6 to 8 weeks of fledging.

Saw-whets hunt almost entirely at night, from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise.  They hunt from a low perch in forest openings.  Their prey, primarily mice and voles, are detected by their excellent hearing and low-light vision.  Food not eaten is often stored on branches.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is one of our smallest owls, measuring about 8 inches in length and weighing 2.5 to 3 ounces.



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