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Northern Saw-Whet Owl We Sighted In Toronto

Posted by on October 25, 2012

Northern Saw-Whet Owl sitting in tree in Toronto park

Bob and I went for a walk one afternoon in Milliken Park, here in Toronto, Ontario,  and by chance, we spotted a Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) at rest in the thick brush.  I had never seen an owl in the wild before, and certainly not one in such close proximity.  We have frequented this park for years, and this was the first time we were lucky enough to catch sight of an owl.

"Northern Saw Whet Owl"

Although this little specimen of an owl sat quietly at rest on his daytime roost, I have, in the past, heard a Northern Saw-Whet Owl when walking in the woods with my dad.  This Owl has a round, light, white face with brown and cream streaks; they also have a dark beak and yellow eyes.

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Northern Saw-Whet owls are very tiny owls, measuring between 6-9 inches in height.  Perched amongst similarly colored branches, this one was almost invisible to the untrained eye.

I had inadvertently startled the little owl from a neighboring perch, and it flew and landed right in front of Bob.  He was quick to draw my attention to it, and fortunately we had our camera with us.  I was absolutely thrilled at the chance to observe this cute little owl at very close range.  The owl was totally at ease with our picture taking.

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I had the Northern Saw-Whet Owl eating out of the palm of my hand…NOT!

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Northern Saw-Whet owls mainly eat mice and rodents.  The sharp claws are indispensable when catching them.

As we observed the owl, a dog passed by in the near distance catching the attention of the owl.  It was on high alert!

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We watched the owl for at least 45 minutes, and all the while, it was blinking and nodding as if close to sleep.  He was securely positioned on the tree branch, thanks to his sharp talons.

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As I said, the owl was in no way disturbed by our presence, so I carefully moved behind it in order to get a look at the feathers on its wings and back.

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These owls are strictly nocturnal, with activity beginning at late dusk.   It was 4 p.m. when we happened to locate this owl, and it was occupied with resting before it set out to hunt in the dark.  When threatened, a Saw-whet Owl will elongate its body in order to appear like a tree branch or bump.

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Curious as to how long the Northern Saw-Whet owl would remain on its perch, we returned to the park just before dusk, and it was still taking its ease exactly where we had left it 2 hours earlier.

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Just before we headed for home, the little owl came to life.  With eyes wide open, it appeared to us that it was now time for the hunt.  What an absolute pleasure to have witnessed such a strikingly beautiful bird.
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30 Responses to Northern Saw-Whet Owl We Sighted In Toronto

  1. Sarah B. Hood

    Lovely pictures! I’ve had a special affection for Saw-Whet owls since I delivered one to the Humane Society after it had knocked itself out in a plate-glass window back in the ’80s. After a doubtful night, it survived and was able to be released again.

    I had a similar encounter to yours on a bird-photography outing with my niece: 30 minutes at dusk with a long-eared owl that seemed similarly unbothered. Perhaps that’s a good time for owl photo-ops… if one is lucky enough to spot them.

    • frametoframe

      Hi Sarah. Last year was a bumper year for Bob and I when it comes to spotting owls, and it was the Saw-Whet Owl that sparked our interest in actively pursuing bird watching as a hobby. Mind you, we have always been backyard birders, but having such a special opportunity to see this little owl at length and in such close proximity had us hooked. We went on to a very full and productive year of bird watching, and indeed, most of our owl sightings were in the mid to late afternoon.


    I really enjoyed these shots and wish I would get to see one in my lifetime.

    • frametoframe

      Thanks for your comments, Lynette. That was the first and only time we have seen a Saw-Whet Owl, and though we have visited the same park many times since, it has never showed itself again. Happy looking!

  3. solarridge

    Inspiring. True beauty is offered to us when we least expect it. Mother Nature’s approach to detail and grace are beyond exception. Thank you for sharing

    • frametoframe

      I agree with your comments totally. There is hardly a day goes by that I don’t revel in the marvel of Nature. It is totally awe-inspiring.

  4. frametoframe

    Comment from: MrRelhed 12/20/12


    They both are beautiful – those little feet on the saw-whet just tickle me . This year seems to be the year for the Great Horned Owl – we have had so many (one just came in 2 days ago in fact)

  5. frametoframe

    From: Needsmoreitalin

    Great video. These are very cute little owls, unless of course you are a mouse or a meadow vole. Interesting thing about Saw-Whets is that they stay very still, like a snipe or a woodcock, before they would fly away from a threat, like a human. This gives a misconception that they are tame.

  6. Chuck

    Fantastic photos and video. I especially enjoyed him sitting in your hand. Quite the feat. ;)

    • frametoframe

      Ha, ha. I couldn’t resist staging that photo. The size of the little Saw-Whet Owl made we want to cuddle it in my hand, but, alas, all we could do was capture it with our camera. It was such a nice experience for both Bob and me.

  7. Pat Nelson

    I’m so glad you included the last photo. What a sharp contrast it is to the other ones with the eyes half closed.

    • frametoframe

      Bob was so glad that he went back to the park for a second look that evening. Only for that, we would never have gotten the owl as he “came alive” and readied for the evening hunt.

  8. B. William

    What luck! I love these guys.

  9. Hester Riches

    Amazing photos indeed. Thanks for sharing these, I found the link on another blog and am following you now, too.

  10. Arti

    This is an amazing sighting indeed! I’ve never seen an owl in the wild either. I’m surprised that he/she is so used to humans, that you could watch for 45 mins. and take all the photos. Which park was it in Toronto? I’m from Calgary, Alberta. I know there are owls around here but haven’t seen one myself. Thanks for visiting my blog Ripple Effects and leaving your comment. Glad you left a link so I can come over and see your beautiful blog.

  11. Larry Jordan

    A beautiful sighting of the Northern Saw-whet Owl Jean! You and Bob got some excellent photos of this little guy. What a thrill that must have been. I’m glad to see that you didn’t disturb the bird from its roost. Patience is so important when approaching and filming birds in the wild. Congrats on your first owl sighting!

  12. PSYL

    Beautiful photos. One experience like this will make people fall in love with owls forever. Thank for sharing it.

  13. frametoframe


    Scott Weidensaul

    Monday, October 29, 2012 2:51:47 PM


    …..The photos are lovely – and just the kind of naive, trusting behavior we usually see in saw-whets during the daytime, when we can frequently pick up the birds we’ve been radio-tracking, if we need to check their harness or change transmitters. Even at night they’re pretty approachable; one of my banders plucked one off a branch near the nets earlier this fall….

    All the best,


  14. frametoframe

    Birds, Words, & Websites

    Monday, October 29,2012

    Author: Laura
    How thrilling to see a Saw-whet. It seems early, but with this odd weather who knows what we’ll see this winter. We’ve already seen some evidence of winter finch irruption and Evening Grosbeak here in the Finger Lakes.

  15. Phil (@anotherbirdblog)

    Wonderful shots – and video

  16. Eileen

    Cool sighting of the Saw-whet owl. Your photos and post is awesome. Congrats!

    • frametoframe

      Thanks, Eileen. Despite future attempts to see the owl in the forest at our local park, we have never caught sight of it again. We didn’t draw attention to it that day for fear that other visitors to the park might threaten the owl or disrupt its routine.

  17. Raymond Barlow

    nice work!

    • frametoframe

      I couldn’t believe my eyes when Bob drew my attention to this precious little bird perched at eye-level. My hands were trembling as I lifted my camera, so anxious was I to capture this rarely seen specimen of the owl family.

  18. Wayne Reanud

    Great set of photos there. Just what I needed on this cold, rainy day. Wayne Renaud

    • frametoframe

      Isn’t it amazing how one of nature’s little gems, such as this Northern Saw-Whet Owl, can warm your soul and lift your spirits. The world of living things is truly full of wonder.

  19. David M. Gascoigne

    Nice job. Thanks for sharing.

    • frametoframe

      The discovery of this little owl is what inspired Bob and me to actively pursue bird watching as a hobby. We have always loved watching birds in our own backyard, and have taken great delight when uncommon visitors, such as Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers, have dropped by during migration, but having that little Saw-Whet Owl all to ourselves, for even an hour or two, really sparked a passion in both of us.

  20. Paul O' Toole

    The NSWO species normally freezes to avoid detection, making it a hard owl to sometimes locate. Their migration into southern ontario is just about finished so they should be around until next March or so.

    Kingston, Ontario

    • frametoframe

      Thanks for your comments, Paul. Bob and I have walked through the woods many times since first seeing the owl, but have never come across it again. Hopefully, it has kept safe and weathered the winter with no problems.

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