Saw-Whet Owl a Cheeky Woods-Dweller

The saw-whet owl, (Aegolius Acadicus) is a very small owl averaging around seven to eight and a half inches or 18 to 22 centimetres.

As a bird of prey, its primary food source is normally mice and voles but it will also take small snakes and young rabbits. The eyes of the saw-whet as well as the eyes of other owl species cannot move like human eyes can.  The eyeballs of an owl are fixed in their sockets thus requiring the owl to move its entire head in order to see what is about. This explains why owls swivel their heads to and fro so much.

The saw whet, for what reason I'm not sure, appears to be quite a tame little bird, as owls go. I recall a close encounter while my wife and I walked leisurely through a ravine in west end Toronto.

It was early evening in the month of May. We were walking quietly through this  wooded valley when all of a sudden a saw-whet owl flew past us only inches above our heads and came to perch on a tree limb almost within arms reach.  I was relieved to see it was an owl since I was preparing to remark to my wife,  'Gee, uh, the little brown bats seem terribly large tonight, don't you think, honey? Cause, uh, that last one just parted my hair!'

We both agreed that if it had indeed been a bat that had just zipped over our heads it had to be the "MOTHER" of all bats! I was ready to call the Guinness Book of World Records!

However, when we both realized it was a cute little owl which now sat staring cheekily back at us from a branch nearby, we sighed with relief. It continued to stare at us with this saucy expression that, if I didn't know better, it appeared to say "Well, maybe I missed you this time - but next time...!"

At this point I decided to approach it and get what I call a really close-up view. This wee fellow allowed me to walk right up to it as it sat on a branch just above my head. It was a close encounter lasting about one minutes at which time it flew off to another branch. I won't soon forget that owl.

The saw-whet has large eyes that see very well at night, especially when there is a full moon. But on a dark night without light from stars or the moon, owls actually cannot see all that well.

Instead, they locate their prey by sound. An owl,.. any owl, has extremely well-tuned, sophisticated and sensitive hearing. Coupled with this is the fact that its ears are not balanced evenly on the sides of its head. One ear is stationed slightly higher than the other. This adaptation assists the owl in pinpointing exactly where its prey is by allowing each ear to take a different reading much like on a sonar screen. The difference, though, is that as each ear acts like its own homing device so the accuracy of where the prey is, even if it is under leaves, is amazing. This is one reason they are such effective hunters.


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