Northern Saw-whet Owls reveal we have much to learn about the world of birds. Author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul shares his insight: “Here’s a species that up until the early to mid-1990s was considered to be rare in most of its range . . . It turns out this is one of the most common forest raptors in North America . . . Last year in Pennsylvania we caught almost 4,000 Saw-whet Owls at our banding station. Sometimes we were catching a hundred a night. And this is a bird that everyone thought was rare.”
Northern Saw-whet Owls - Common but Unknown
Interview with Scott Weidensaul
Interview by Todd and Chris Peterson
This is BirdNote!
[Call of male Northern Saw-whet Owl]
Northern Saw-whet Owls reveal we have much to learn about the world of birds. In fall, they migrate south from Canada and the northern states to find food and shelter. In spring, they head north again, traveling silently, in part, to avoid being eaten by larger owls. [pause] Author and ornithologist, Scott Weidensaul, (WHY-den-saul) shares his fascination with these tiny creatures:
“First of all, let’s just get it out on the table! Saw-whet owls are cute! They’re just a really engaging, appealing animal.
But here’s a species that up until the early to mid-1990’s was considered to be rare in most of its range. My home state of Pennsylvania had it listed as a Species of Special Concern – it’s on our conservation license plates because everybody thought this was a rare species. It turns out this is one of the most common forest raptors in North America. But they’re nocturnal, their entire migration takes place after dark, they’re secretive during the day, they’re easy to overlook… [but there’s now a network of about 120 banding stations across North America, all collaborating together under the umbrella of Project OwlNet that are studying Saw-whet Owl migration.]”
[Advertisement call of male Northern Saw-whet Owl]
“The advertisement call of a male Saw-whet Owl, ….if you play that at night during the migration, it will lure the migrating owls down out of the sky and we string mist nets in the woods and harmlessly catch them, band them, take a few measurements, let them go – the numbers are amazing! Last year in Pennsylvania we caught almost 4,000 Saw-whet Owls at our banding station. Sometimes we were catching a hundred a night. And this is a bird that everyone thought was rare.
I love Saw-whet owls as an object lesson in how little we know about even the most common species of birds.”
We have videos of these elusive owls. Check them out at birdnote.org.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Advertisement call of male Northern Saw-whet Owl  recorded by G.A. Keller.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org February 2017/2020 Narrator: Mary McCann Zoom Disk 1 Track 14 15:35-16:38
ID# NSWO-03-2014-02-25 NSWO-03