Bird Database

Northern Saw-whet Owl

(Aegolius acadicus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Habitat loss and fragmentation

Conservation Actions

Protect unfragmented forest blocks

Northern Saw-whet Owl

(Aegolius acadicus)

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is the smallest of its family in New Hampshire, weighing in at less than half an ounce (a little bigger than a robin). It is also the only one of the state’s breeding owls to migrate. Although saw-whets occur throughout the state year-round, some likely leave in the fall while others arrive from farther north. Peak times to find this small owl away from breeding areas are in October-November and February-March. Numbers of migrants vary considerably from one year to the next, probably because of variation in prey populations on the breeding grounds. To better track numbers and seasonality of migrants, ornithologists have established banding stations specifically for this species across a wide portion of its range.

This may be the hardest to see of New Hampshire’s regularly occurring owls. They tend to roost in dense vegetation and are thus not easy to find during the day, the exception being if one is found by a scolding mob of chickadees and titmice. Instead, you have to listen, and even then the species can be tricky. Although their monotonous “tooting” whistle is distinctive, this is but one of many calls, and this tiny owl is just as likely to utter any number of short squeaks, squawks, and hisses that are sometimes hard to tell from creaking trees or small mammals. Patience is also required, since Saw-whets often only call a couple of times in response to a recording or imitation, even though they may have flown in and be sitting a few dozen feet away. The best time to hear the male’s tooting call is from late winter to May, when it is used to set up a territory.

Save for the pervasive threat of habitat loss, no major conservation issues have been identified for Northern Saw-whet Owls. Even habitat loss might not be a major concern in a heavily forested state like New Hampshire. These owls’ secretive nature, highly nocturnal habits, and irregular migration patterns make it extremely difficult to estimate population sizes, much less trends.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count