Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dec 16, 2012: Erv's Field Notes #49

Adult Northern Saw-whet Owl, © Amanda Guercio, ON, Kingston, November 2011

Sunday, December 16, 2012. Cloudy, north wind, Temperature 39 degrees F.

I walked around the South Lake. Several hundred Canada Geese and a few dozen Mallards were on the lake. Also, a dozen or so Mallards were loafing along the shore of pond N near Stonebrooke. I looked for the Black Duck that Wolf saw a few days ago but I didn’t see it. A Red-tailed Hawk flew over me as I walked along the south shore. A few minutes later, most of the geese got up off the lake and flew towards the southwest. I decided to look closely in all of the Eastern red cedar trees near the path for a Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadius). I didn’t find an owl but in one tree, I saw a some “white-wash” on the foliage and a closer look revealed several small owl pellets on the ground beneath the tree. Owls swallow their prey whole, usually mice and shrews, and then regurgitate a pellet composed of hair and bone. I collected the pellets which looked relatively fresh. Once they have dried out, I will tease them apart and see if I can identify the bones.

Saw-whet Owls breed in the northern coniferous forests and in pine forests in the western mountains as far south as southern Mexico. They occur in Iowa only during the winter. I took the following from a web site called Check this site out for more information on this interesting species.

“European explorers first discovered this Owl in a North American colony called Acadia (now Nova Scotia). The Latinised word "acadius" refers to this territory. The common name "Saw-whet" comes from these Owl’s unique calls. The Saw-whet Owl is also called Acadian Owl, blind Owl, Kirkland's Owl, the saw-filer, the sawyer, sparrow Owl, white-fronted Owl, Farmland Owl, Little Nightbird, Queen Charlotte Owl, and even the Whet-saw Owl. Common misspellings: sawwhet owl, sawhet owl.

Description: The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a very small, short-bodied, owl with a relatively short tail. The overly large head has no ear tufts and may appear distorted due to an asymmetrical skull. They look small when perched and tend to shuffle their feet, but in flight appear larger because of their broad wings. The facial disk has brownish and whitish radials around the edge, which fade to a whitish area around the eyes. There is also a dark area from the base of the bill to the bottom inside edge of each eye. The rest of the head is brownish to grey-brown and densely covered with white streaks, especially on the forehead. The eyes are large and bright yellow-orange. The bill is black. Plumage is quite fluffy and brownish or reddish brown overall streaked with white underneath and spotted on the back. Flight feathers are spotted white. The legs and feet are light buff and heavily feathered. The toes are lightly feathered and the claws are dark horn with blackish tips.”

Saw-whets are strictly nocturnal and perch low in trees, especially evergreens. They are easily approached and often can be found with a mouse in their talons.
As I rounded the west side of the lake, a large White-tailed doe slowly walked from the wetlands and into the stand of cottonwood trees near where the upland trail meets the paved path near Paul Errington’s rock. By the way, the upland trail has been surfaced with some new aggregate gravel.

Erv Klaas

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