northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus)

This saw whet owl was injured when a strong wind pushed it into the side of a high-rise building. "Chigger" now lives full time at the Illinois Raptor Center and is one of our educational birds.

The diminutive saw whet owl rarely occurs in Illinois, and it is rarer yet to see one. It appears most often in the northern half of the state.

Because it is hard to find and seldom seen, some think they may be more common than originally believed. Due to their secretive nature, they may be under-counted.

Sometimes, only the protests of other nearby birds give the saw whet's position away.

It feeds at night, dining mostly on deer mice.

The northern saw whet owl is the smallest owl found in Illinois. It is only about seven inches long from tip to tail.

This northern saw whet owl was photographed in a central Illinois nature preserve after an exhaustive search of a grove of red cedar trees. An area bird watcher had discovered two saw whets in the area and called the IRC. It didn't seem to mind our group of three observers, and spent its time preening, and looking around. Use special care when observing birds like saw whets that are unafraid of people. We watched for a few minutes and then went on our way so as not to wear out our welcome.

This juvenile saw whet was rescued by a homeowner after it was mobbed by larger birds. Saw whet owls are nocturnal, secretive and rarely seen.
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 Quick Facts about saw whet owls:

Deer mice make up most of the saw whet's diet. They also eat house mice, voles and small birds (particularly during migration times).

Be Careful:

Be cautious not to draw too much attention to an owl's position when observing. You may give away its location to crows or other birds that would harass it. Remember, nocturnal birds are resting during the day.


Uncommon. Most saw whet owls are seen in northern Illinois. Because they are silent, except during breeding season, they are extremely difficult to find.