Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Just after dark this evening we added a fifth owl species to our yard
list in East Orchard Mesa. I stepped outside to take some elk steaks
off the grill and discovered a Saw-whet Owl calling from some pinyon
pines nearby. I mimicked it's whistled call and it flew into a tree
about 15 feet away. Debbie and I were able to get a good view with
flashlights. After a while the bird flew back to perch low in the
pinyons, probably to hunt mice near a compost container we keep there.
Other owls we've seen here are Great Horned, Long-eared, Western
Screech-owl, and one Pygmy Owl. I have seen both Barn Owl and Burrowing
Owls about a mile from the property and might get them here someday, but
I never expected to see a Saw-whet in the yard.
- Western Slope Birders,
A short while ago I searched through our wildlife shelter belt in hope
of finding the tiny 7" owl. With luck I spotted it perching deep in a
juniper tree about 3 meters off the ground. I was able to get a few
quick pictures without flushing him. It appears he may have been here
for a day or two as I collected several regurgitated pellets from the
ground below his perch.
I find Saw-whets in the mountains every year but I think they're rarely
reported here in the valley. Does anyone have information on previous
sightings here in the Grand Valley?
- Western Slope birders,
The Saw-whet Owl was calling again last night and is still hanging out
in the yard. Yesterday I snapped a quick photo of him (attached). The
Saw-whet apparently has other owl company. We have five owl boxes in
the yard and around the orchard. Yesterday I checked and cleaned out
some of the boxes and found a Western Screech-owl roosting in one about
50 feet from where the Saw-whet is roosting. If only we could get a
view of them interacting at night!
Today I checked the other owl boxes in the orchard and found another
Screech-owl perched in the entrance hole. Even though he kept his eyes
shut, he was aware I that was there and would turn his head to listen as
I would move.
Besides the small owls there is also a perennial pair of Great Horned
Owls in a neighbor's spruce tree adjacent to our apple orchard.
Sometimes they clunk around on the roof of our house in hope of picking
off one of the rabbits.
- Western Slope Birders,
The Northern Saw-whet Owl continues to roost in the yard by day, and
call at night, although I heard him only once briefly last night. A
concern is that the Saw-whet could be predated by the larger and more
aggressive Western Screech-owl. On Saturday, both birds were calling
from the same area of our wildlife shelter belt. We also have a pair of
Great Horned Owls calling in a duet just a couple hundred feet away.
Scott Rashid thinks this bird is probably a young male, hatched last
year, based on certain feather features. Scott said that while it's
common for Saw-whets to roost in a tree, if the bird finds the nest
boxes he might begin calling from the entrance in order to find a mate.
On Wednesday Deb and I confirmed the bird calling from a nest box hole.
Scott is a longtime friend, fellow bander and rehabber in Estes Park.
He recently published the book, Small Mountain Owls, an account of his
personal experiences with banding and rehabbing the owls over two
decades. The book is richly illustrated with Scott's own paintings.
The Saw-whet has been roosting in dense foliage where it's been
difficult to get a good view, and nearly impossible to get a photo.
Today I got lucky.
- Hello Western Slope Birders,
An incredible development:
The Saw-whet Owl is still using one of several juniper trees to roost in
our yard. After showing the bird to some folks this morning I decided
to check all five of our owl boxes. I also went to clean out and
replenish wood shavings in the orchard box where I'd found a Screech-owl
on Feb. 12th. Moving to the last box I was stunned to find another
Saw-whet Owl perched in the entrance. I hurried back to find the first
owl still roosting deep in the juniper (photo #1 attached), confirming
that we do have two Saw-whets roosting here, about 225 yards apart.
Comparing the photo I posted on 2-18, to the ones of the bird in the box
today (photos #2 & 3 attached here), the different markings are evident.
This evening we'll spend some time listening and watching in an attempt
to learn whether these birds are potential mates, or two rival males.
Unlike most other owls, Saw-whets are apparently promiscuous breeders
and do not mate for life. Might this increase the chance a pair would
breed here outside their normal habitat and given the abundance of nest
Maybe this would be a good time for Grand Valley folks to get out
shortly after dark and listen for Saw-whets and other owls. It seems
the biggest owling effort locally is done for the Christmas count, but
this is a more productive time to find owls. Perhaps Saw-whets aren't
so unusual in the Grand Valley as has been thought.
- Hello Western Slope Birders,
It's official, she's expecting! The female Saw-whet is on at least
three eggs, possibly more. Next to the bird were two deer mice, one of
them half eaten. So far as I know, this would be a first Grand Valley
nesting record for the species. Our elevation is about 4750 ft.
The male was calling again last night, maybe trying to find a second
mate because of the additional nest boxes available? He's still
roosting in juniper trees, 225 yds from the box were the female is.
There are two other owl boxes within about 50 feet of the male's
roost. Another box nearby is being used by kestrels.
I set up a scouting camera to hopefully capture any activity at the
box. It uses an infrared flash triggered by a motion detector.
Yesterday just after midnight, the camera caught an owl at the box
entrance with a mouse. This morning the camera showed an owl at the
entrance when it left the box at 3:38 a.m., then at 3:41 a.m., an owl
entered the box. At sun up, a starling looked in the entrance, then
left. This evening I'll set the camera to capture video, maybe that
will reveal something more.
- Hello Western Slope Birders,
Just an update on the owl happenings here. On Wednesday (5-4) as we
were walking through the wildlife shelter belt we got a close up view of
a roosting Long-eared Owl, the first we've seen here in several years.
The bird stayed in the yard until dark but we haven't seen it since.
The Saw-whet Owls nesting in our apricot tree are apparently doing well
with five healthy chicks close to fledging. There hasn't been much to
see lately because the adults have mostly been roosting off the
property. The female is no longer staying in the nest box, leaving more
room for the chicks. We found the male owl roosting by the house only
three times in the past 3 weeks.
This afternoon, with advice and support from Scott Rashid, we banded the
five chicks, took measurements and weighed them. Their weights ranged
from 85-103 grams (3 to 3.6 ounces), about the same as adults. The
oldest chick was exercising his wings so he could leave the nest within
a week. The youngest will likely be 8 or 10 days behind. Given this
very unusual nest location, wouldn't it be interesting if we could
follow their movements over the next few months?
If there's a safe opportunity to view the young after fledging, I'll
post the information to the list. The photos are of the male hunting at
dusk, and banding the chicks in the orchard.
- On Sunday, I acted on a tip from Nic Korte about a report of an injured Saw-whet Owl that was found by some boys near the Colorado River. I was surprised to find a juvenile Saw-whet, recently fledged. I don't think this bird could have been far from the nest. The area is in the Redlands off Peony Drive, next to the river.
The bird was unable to fly due to what appeared to be a broken carpel bone of the right wing. I took the bird to the veterinarian who specializes in wildlife for the CPW. The vet was going to x-ray it to see if it can be pinned and repaired.
The following day I returned to search the area for a nest cavity and other Saw-whets, without success. But, there's a lot of dense forest habitat there with large cottonwoods and elms, and an understory of Russian Olive and Three-leaf Sumac. Our experience with the Saw-whets that nested in our orchard suggests that the adult and juvenile birds remain and hunt together for two months after fledging. We may be able to locate the birds by listening after dusk. This could add to the two known NSWO nests in 2011, including the cottonwood nest found by Coen and Brenda by the river in Clifton. Again, it could be that Saw-whets nest more regularly in the Grand Valley than we previously thought.
Wildlife Rescue Team
Had a Northern Saw-whet Owl in the yard at sundown singing away for several minutes. The owl was difficult to see as the trees are still fully leaved out. Yard species 178 (113 species this year in yard and 202 for Montrose County this year).
Could it be the Killdeers are the canary in the coal mine for shorebirds. Brenda and I have birded nearly everyday since 1 August in most counties in Colorado. We have found few shorebirds and very few Killdeers. It was but a few years ago we would see a dozen or so Killdeers at most water holes.
Coen and Brenda
- Hello Western Slope birders,
This evening about 7:30 I stepped outside to put some elk steak on the
grill when I heard a Saw-whet Owl calling from the yard. Under a full
moon it seemed perfect. The call is a sound I've listened for since
first finding a Saw-whet in our yard four years ago. Deja vu owl. It's
the elk steaks, I'm sure. The 2011 Saw-whet found a mate and reared
five young from a nest box in an apricot tree at the edge of the apple
orchard. The Saw-whet this evening has been calling from near an owl
box in the wildlife shelter belt that extends from the house to the
orchard. Might we be so lucky to have another Saw-whet nesting in the
yard? Elk steaks and owl boxes.
On one evening two weeks ago we found three other owls in the wildlife
shelter belt; a Western Screech-owl in a nest box entrance, a Long-eared
Owl in a western red cedar only ten yards away, and a Great Horned Owl
calling from a nearby cottonwood. We've seen WESO's in three different
boxes in the yard during January. I think they move around a lot now.
Other yard raptors include daily visits by Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, and
Red-tailed Hawks, and a female Northern Harrier. American Kestrels
continue to defend the Barn Owl box from flickers, et. al., including a
flock of curious Mountain Bluebirds. Each and every bluebird in the
flock seemed determined to poke it's head into the Barn Owl box. We may
need to put up another Barn Owl box.
With the warming weather It could be a very good time to take evening
walks and listen for Saw-whet Owls in the Grand Valley.
Central Orchard Mesa
- On Monday and again today I was able to locate the daytime roosts of the
Saw-whet Owl in the wind row, well hidden next to the trunk in eastern
red cedars. The bird has been calling each evening from points near
each of four owl boxes there. He has other choices with nine owl boxes
around the property, and a few cottonwood cavities. A Great Horned Owl
is also calling nearby. We'll give the Saw-whet some space so maybe he
can find a mate. Here's a photo taken at 8:25 this evening.
We hope to have as much luck in our next owl quest for an Unspotted
- Hello Western Slope birders,
Here's another March record of Saw-whet Owl for the Grand Valley. This
adult bird was caught Thursday night by a domestic cat in the Redlands
area about a quarter mile from the Colorado River. I'd guess the owl
was captured when it went to ground for a mouse. The homeowner
safeguarded the owl in a bathroom and called Colorado Parks and Wildlife
the next day. The bird was kept under observation and released shortly