Raptor Spotlight: Spruce
June 01, 2020
The Raptor Center, Photo by Steve Turnbull

Estimated 5 years


Northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus)

Species nickname:
Little owl, Big-headed little owl

Order- Strigiformes, family- Strigidae, genus- Aegolius

The smallest owl in Minnesota, saw-whet owls average 2.8 ounces (80 grams) and 6.7–8.7 inches (17–22 centimeters) in height. They are also one of the smallest owls in North America—the smallest is the elf owl, weighing roughly 1 ounce (30 grams) and measuring 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) tall.

In the wild, Northern saw-whet owls hunt small rodents, birds, and large insects.

Average lifespan:
The longevity record is 10 years for a wild bird. In captivity, they have been known to live for 16 years.

Migratory pattern:
Saw-whet migration is cyclical and appears to be tied to rodent populations in the boreal forests of eastern Canada.

These tiny owls are cavity nesters, often using cavities in the trunks of trees that have been excavated by woodpeckers. Saw-whet owls and other cavity-nesting raptors, such as Eastern screech owls and American kestrels, often make their homes in standing dead trees. So if you have a dead tree on your property that isn’t posing any danger, consider leaving it for these owls to make their home.