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The Owls of North Dakota

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Aegolius acadicus

JPG -- Picture of Species

The saw-whet owl is very tame, with a reddish facial disk and no ear tufts. They are a rich dark brown above, dappled with white spots, and have white underparts that are streaked with reddish-brown. They are about 8 inches long with a wingspread of 1 1/2 - 2 feet, and their flight is rapid. They are the only tiny owl east of the Rocky Mountains which lacks ear tufts.

The saw-whet owl is found throughout North America from southern Alaska and Canada to central Mexico. They inhabit dense coniferous or mixed forests, wooded swamps, and bogs. More migratory than most owls, they winter through and south of their breeding range, the migration being a general southward withdrawal to escape food shortages or extreme cold.

The saw-whet may be a more common winter resident in North Dakota than is believed due to their habit of roosting silently in coniferous trees and being difficult to flush. While a winter visitor for the most part, they have also been known to nest on rare occasions in North Dakota.

Strictly nocturnal, saw-whets prefer coniferous woods in swampy areas. They nest in abandoned woodpecker holes, often those of flickers, and also in natural tree cavities. When hunting, they float silently along edges of open parks and meadows, dropping on their prey in the grass. Their primary food is insects, but they will also eat mice, rats, small squirrels, chipmunks, and occasionally sparrows and juncos.

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