Photo Study Of The Banding Of Northern Saw-whet Owls In Schuykill County, PA, November 18, 2010

    I had an amazing evening yesterday watching Scott Weidensaul and his banding team capture, band and release two Northern Saw-whet Owls. Their banding station is on a ridge
    on private land near Friedensburg, Schuykill County, PA.  They set up four mist nets, seven nights a week, weather permitting, during October, November and the beginning
    of December to capture the Northern Saw-whets. They then inspect, weigh, band, measure, sex and photograph the birds,
meticulously recording the data, before releasing these
    beautiful little raptors so they can continue their migration southward.

Scott Weidensaul And Friend

From left to right, Banding Volunteers
Karen Light, Richard Light, Scott Weidensaul, Benjamin Vizzachero and his grandmother Dr. Ann Rhoads, Pat Trego

    Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus) are found only in North America. Their breeding range includes southern Alaska, southern Canada, most of the United States
    and some high elevation sites in central Mexico.They inhabit woodlands of all types throughout their range. Though they seem to be most abundant in coniferous forests, they
    are also common in deciduous and mixed conifer-deciduous forests. During migration and winter, Saw-whet owls inhabit a wide variety of habitats over a range of altitudes and
    latitudes. They may be found in rural or even suburban environments. The primary habitat requirements seem to be perches for hunting and dense vegetation for roosting.
    Northern Saw-whet Owls are the smallest owls in eastern North America. At approximately 2.5 ounces males weigh about as much as an American robin. Females weigh
    slightly more, at about 3.5 ounces. The body lengths of males and females are 7 to 8 inches and 8 to 8.5 inches respectively. The wingspan of an adult ranges from 18 to 24
    inches. Northern Saw-whets have dark-colored bills, eyes with yellow-pigmented irises, heavily feathered legs and feet, a tail with three bars, and a wide, reddish-brown body
    with white streaks on the abdomen. Their large, round heads are reddish brown to brown, have a large, grayish facial disk in the center and are streaked with white on the top.
    The neck is speckled with white. Northern Saw-whet Owls depend on this plumage for camouflage while roosting and hunting. Male and female Saw-whet Owls are similar in
    appearance, though females are slightly larger than males. Juveniles are chocolate-brown with a pattern of large white spots above their bills that extend over their eyes.
    In the wild, the average lifespan of a Northern Saw-whet Owl is 3.5 to 4 years, The record for a wild bird, however, is 16 years. Northern Saw-whet Owls are nocturnal.
    They are active at night, and roost silently in thick vegetation during the day. This species is also migratory. Though some individuals may stay in the same area year-round,
    the majority of Northern Saw-whets move south in autumn. Northern Saw-whet Owls are solitary. They
hunt at night, from about 30 minutes after sunset to about 30 minutes
    before sunrise. They hunt from a low perch, detecting prey by sight and sound. But Northern Saw-whet Owls also have excellent hearing; their asymmetrical skull allows them
    to locate prey using sound alone. When a prey item is located, the owl drops out of the perch onto the prey, capturing it with the talons. The prey is torn apart and eaten in
    pieces. Larger prey may be partially eaten and stored on a branch to eat over the course of several hours. The Northern Saw-whet Owl diet consists primarily of small mammals,
    particularly deer mice, voles, shrews, shrew-moles, pocket-mice, harvest mice, bog lemmings, heather voles, red tree voles, jumping mice and house mice. Juveniles of larger
    mammals, including
pocket-gophers, chipmunks and squirrels are occasionally taken, as are insects, such as beetles and grasshoppers. Small birds are also occasionally taken,
    primarily during migration when they are active at night. (Cornell BNA; Wikipedia; University of Michigan)

One Of The Northern Saw-whet Owls Banded Last Evening

An Unbanded Northern Saw-whet Owl Photographed
At Peace Valley Park, Bucks County, PA, In March, 2008

Seven Biology Students From Canisius College Drove Down From Buffalo, NY To Observe The Banding Process

      Everyone knows that Scott Weidensaul is an outstanding naturalist, ornithologist, bander and author. I would be remiss if I didn't say that he is also an outstanding teacher.
    Just watching him explain the whys, whats and hows of Saw-whet banding to the Canisius students as well as his interaction with them throughout the evening was wonderful! 

The Banding Process

                     1. Scott Weighs The Bagged Owl                                                                     2. Scott Removes The Owl From The Bag

                                        3. Scott Bands The Owl                                                                 4. Scott Examines Wing Pattern And Molt Condition To Help Establish Age

5. Ultraviolet Light Also Helps Establish Age                                                                                     6. Scott Measures Tail  Length

7. Wing And Tail Length With Weight Sets Gender                                                            8. Measuring Length of The Owl's Beak

   9. Scott Holds This Newly Banded Hatch Year Female Northern Saw-whet Owl
   Getting Ready To Acclimate It To Darkness For Five Minutes Just Before Release

    To see a larger image of any of the photos below, please click on either the thumbnails or the captions...thanks!






Checking Equipment

Tools Of The Trade

Owl In Bag Goes On Scale

Removing Owl From Bag

Checking Owl






Getting Ready To Band

Picking Up The Banding Pliers

Choosing Numbered Band

Starting To Band Owl

Finishing Banding The Owl






Checking Wing Pattern

Checking Wing Pattern

Wing Under UV Light

Wing Under UV Light

Wing Under UV Light






Measuring Beak

The Alula Helps Age The Owl

Banded Hatch Year Female Owl

Banded Hatch Year Female Owl

Checking Owl's Ear






Hatch Year Female

Hatch Year Female

Scott With Hatch Year Female

Scott With Hatch Year Female

Scott With Hatch Year Female






Hatch Year Female

Hatch Year Female Mug Shot

2nd Year Female

2nd Year Female Wing Spread

2nd Year Female Wing Spread






Banding 2nd Year Female

Checking Wing Pattern

Wing Under UV Light

Checking Wing

Measuring Wing






Measuring Wing

Matching Iris Color

Admiring The Owl

Inspecting The Alula

2nd Year Female Owl In Hand






2nd Year Owl Before Release





Please click here to go to the Ned Smith Center For Nature & Art Homepage


  Howard B. Eskin 2010     Please email your comments to      Please click here to go back to Bird Webpage Index