Monday, November 10, 2008

Northern Saw-whet Owl, Up Close and Personal

Sunday morning started normally enough, with two slow-rising parents having coffee while an already wound-up child was running wild with her imagination in the living room. But then we heard a light "thump" against a window from the other side of the house. I figured I'd search under the windows later, when my eyes were a bit more open, to see if a junco or goldfinch met with some bad luck. That would be unusual, window strikes almost always occur on the south side of the house.

A few moments later we heard a scraping, fluttery sound from just down the hall from the living room. It continued long enough that I was able to peek around the corner to see the south-facing windows, expecting to find a junco chasing its reflection.

Nope. Clearly a bird too big to be a junco, and not black/white but whitish, brownish, and streaky. Sharpie pinning an unfortunate junco? The bird seemed to be looking to perch on the ledge and finally succeeded. Not a Sharpie, it was a Northern Saw-whet Owl!

We all got amazing close-up looks of the owl, the owl had amazing close-up looks at us. We stared, it stared. I ran for the camera, it flew. Luckily Donna and Reina watched where it landed, in a line of spruce trees not too far from the house.

There's an owl in there somewhere. You can actually see it, look closely!

Armed with binoculars, a scope, and camera we headed out into the yard a reasonable distance from the line of trees so we wouldn't spook it further. It didn't take long to find, though it did relocate a bit farther back in the tree as we watched. We tried not to stare too long, we tried not to point and make it obvious we were gawking.

Hunkered down next to the trunk, this bird settled in for the day.

Ultimately it did what saw-whets do when encountered by people: they sit stock still and wait, giving the very-wrong impression that they are tame. This one perched fairly high so there was no temptation on Reina's part to try and pet it (which we would have stopped, don't worry). I've seen folks of all ages consider that option - let's face it, and I understand the temptation: saw-whets are arguably the cutest owl ever.

Reina gets an eyeful, hopefully ending her saw-whet phobia. When she
was two I whistled one in, which flew a little too close for her liking.
To think, I could have ended a potential birding career with that!

Scopes are invaluable in getting folks excited about wildlife. The "Wow!" factor jumped by an order of magnitude when all the neighbors we could muster took a peek. The funny paradox with the scope: we had to step back a ways to get a closer look.

Eyes mostly closed, but still keeping an eye on us. I thought
the chickadees, Blue Jays, and crows would have been a
bit more wary, but they ignored the owl completely.

We left the bird alone for the day, though I checked on it periodically. It roosted, seemingly content. I opted not to run the lawn mower at all, even though grinding up leaves to cover our gardens was on the "to do" list. Hopefully the weather will hold and we can do it next weekend.

Though it may be just passing through we're hoping this bird will stick around. We often hear them in during the winter months, maybe our yard is part of its wintering grounds. Come to think of it, we found quite a few mice in our yard this year, nesting in some of our nest boxes and even nesting in a small divot in our garden. Seems like a reasonable food supply this year.

Read more about Northern Saw-whet Owls.



N8 said...

That's way too cool. Why do you northerners get all the cool owls?

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Great story and lucky you for an encounter with a saw-whet!

The Ridger, FCD said...

That last picture is indeed teh kewt.

Owlman said...

One word: WOW! That beats my ESO hands down. I spent all of last winter looking for a Saw whet without any luck.

noflickster said...

I have to admit, I was extremely excited about this post because it was such an awesome experience: the bird came to us, then roosted all day. How often do you get that, a bird that finds you, then stays put so you can view it at your leisure?

n8 - I suppose there is a biogeographical explanation there somewhere, but that's probably another post (and some research) away!

zen - thanks! I'm hoping one (or more) stick around for the season, at least so there is some night music now and then.

ridger - I'm excited the photos came out at all, it was fairly dark in the spruce grove!

owlman - funny thing (to me) is that I've never seen any other owl other than saw-whets on our hill. I've heard Barred, Great-horned, and Eastern Screech-owl but never seen one! While I truly appreciate how lucky we are with saw-whets, I'm dying to finally see one of the others, especially if we can entice a screech-owl to our nest box.

Thanks for dropping by!

Anonymous said...

Hi Noflickster,

Reina looks thrilled to take part in your birdwatching adventures. I am sure that you want to bestow the marvelous world of birds that surrounds us with your daughter. I think that’s great; there are not enough children in this nation who participate in this popular activity. That is the very reason award-winning ornithologist and wildlife biologist John Robinson wrote Birding for Everyone, Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers. He wants to encourage people of all ages and all races to become active birders. The more people who enjoy the wonders of birds, the more potential studies they will participate in to help conservation efforts now and in the future. These important efforts rely on our youth to adapt these values and act on them, John stresses. Please consider his book for review in The Feather and the Flower Blog. It is sure to benefit your readers.

Please let me know if you are interested in receiving and reviewing John Robinson's new book.

Carly Felton

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