Northern Saw-Whet Owls: The Cutest Owls

Northern saw-whet owls are tiny, captivating, and recently newsworthy—one was found in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

northern saw-whet owlmlorenz/shutterstock
Northern saw-whet owl perching on a tree stump

It’s the small size and intense eyes that make a Northern saw-whet owl so captivating. Despite being named after the sound of sharpening blades on whetstones, the tiny Northern saw-whet owl’s charming, toot-toot calls are hardly menacing. The pint size owls stand just about 8 inches tall, about the size of a robin, with oversized, endearing eyes.

The alarm notes of songbirds may draw your attention to a roosting saw-whet owl in a dense conifer stand. You might also see the elusive birds at a banding program as researchers continue to learn more about distribution, mostly in the forests of northern and western North America. Learn how to spot the owl in your backyard trees.

Northern-saw whet owls eat rodents, but they are so small they often eat an adult mouse over the course of two meals. The nocturnal owl is famously tame if approached. In fall, saw-whets spread out from their breeding grounds in northern states and western mountains, wintering in thickets and woods across the country.

Rockefeller the Owl

Recently these adorable owls were all over the news when one was discovered in New York City’s Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. The owl, now named Rockefeller, was rescued and cared for at the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, then released back into the wild.

“Rocky’s release was a success! She is a tough little bird and we’re happy to see her back in her natural habitat. We are sure that Rocky will feel your love and support through her journey south,” the wildlife center wrote in a Facebook post.

Next, check out 15 outstanding pictures of owls.

Ken Keffer
Nature writer Ken Keffer fondly remembers the spring duck migration in his native Wyoming, but now he gets most excited when irruptive finches, siskins and redpolls visit his feeders in Iowa.