Photo of a saw-whet owl in a tree

Great-horned owls may be the most well-known and most common owl in Iowa, but I don't think there's any disputing that the northern saw-whet owl is the cutest.

Only slightly heavier than a hairy woodpecker and about the size of a robin, the saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) is tiny and adorable.

Saw-what owls hide easily.

In addition to being small, saw-whet owls are also strictly nocturnal, which means they are almost never active at a time when humans would be able to see them.

However, you might hear their call --- too too too --- in a high-pitched tone January-May.

They are stealthy predators.

Northern saw-whet owls perch on low branches along the edges of the woods to hunt their prey, which ranges from small mammals to birds or even bats. Larger prey they may break up into two meals, and they will supplement their food with insects.

However, saw-whets are also the prey of larger raptors, including hawks and owls.

They may freeze their food for later.

Sometimes, saw-whet owls will cache their food, and in the wintertime, it may freeze before they eat it. They will then pick up what they want to eat, take it back to the roost and lay on it to thaw it before eating.

Juveniles and adults look very different.

You aren't seeing two different species --- juvenile saw-whet owls and adults just look very different!

Juvenile saw-whets have a light brown body and dark brown head, and after their first molt get their adult coloring with a mottled coloring and partially-white facial disk.

Photo of three juvenile saw-whet owls

Juvenile saw-whet owls. Photo by Kathy & Sam, via Wikimedia Commons

They have asymetrical ears.

Many owls have ears that are asymmetrical, but saw-whet owls have extremely asymmetrical ears. The right ear hole is higher and faces upward, while the left is low and faces downward. Using these differences, the saw-whet can triangulate sounds and detect where prey is even when it is incredibly dark out.

 

Owls of Iowa: Great horned owl

There are nine species of owls in Iowa, and the great-horned owl (Bubo virgianus) may be the most well-known species. Great-horned owls have the quintessential owl call. When you think owl, you think “Whoooo. Whoooo.” That is actually not the call of every owl but the call of the great-horned owl. You can’t see their…

Read More

Birds change feathers like people change clothes

You may have noticed that as the seasons change, birds begin to look different. What was a bright eastern goldfinch in the spring becomes a duller hue in the winter. A duck that had vibrant breeding feathers earlier in the year now looks a little drab. That is because birds molt. Their feathers wear out…

Read More

Bird seed ornaments

Everyone loves to feed the birds in winter. (Learn about one of Iowa’s winter birds: Dark-eyed junco) It helps the birds that are scavenging for food. It lets you get close to watch these fun, feathered friends. Bird watching is a good hobby to do from the warmth of your house on chilly days. You…

Read More

Iowa’s Winter Birds: Dark-eyed junco

Snowbirds are people that flee Iowa for warmer weather farther south. By farther south, we usually mean Florida, Texas or Arizona. However, for some residents of the far north, like dark-eyed juncos, Iowa is the warm haven to which they flock. As winter sets in, these pretty little sparrows migrate from their breeding grounds in…

Read More

Will the mama bird take her baby back if you touch it?

We are planning on redoing our landscaping, and a volunteer bush on the corner of the house needs to come out. However, my husband Snapchatted a picture to me of a robin, and she decided to make her nest right in the bush. Needless to say, that bush will not be going anywhere for the…

Read More