18 November 2011


You're probably going to have to think back to high school or college French class for this one... what the heck is a chouette?  Translated from French to English, a chouette is a small owl.  As you will see shortly, it is somewhat easy to understand why the French Canadians, upon first seeing the bird in the photographs below, would have called it a chouette. As time passed and the colloquial name chouette was used by more and more English speakng people, the name eventually became slurred and changed into saw-whet, and later this species was named the Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Face-to-face with a Northern Saw-whet Owl
On 5 November, members of South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society were afforded a unique opportunity to see Indiana's smallest owl, the Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus), at Indiana Dunes State Park.  Brad Bumgardner, resident naturalist at Indiana Dunes State Park, has been banding and collecting data on this species for several years, and because of a recent donation from South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society to help fund equipment necessary for banding, Brad invited our group for a private presentation on Northern Saw-whet Owls during the peak of their migration through the area.

Members of South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society watch intently as naturalist Brad Bumgardner collects data on a Northern Saw-whet Owl
We had a packed house for the event, and we were not to be disappointed.  The initial mist net check yielded no owls.  For the second net check, Dawn and Eric Scarborough and Lindsay and I went with the volunteers and were lucky enough to find that a Northern Saw-whet Owl had flown into the mist net in response to the speakers blaring out the calls produced by this species.  The volunteers bagged the owl and brought it back to Brad, and in front of the group he collected data and put an identifying band on its leg.

On the big screen, Brad collects data on the beak length of the Northern Saw-whet Owl
To allow more people to see what was going on, Brad worked beneath a camera and projected what he was doing onto a big screen.  With the data that were collected, Brad was able to determine that the bird we captured was a hatch-year female.

Reluctantly, the Northern Saw-whet Owl allowed Brad to place a band on her leg
Banding the owl allows it to be tracked as it is captured at other locations along its migratory route.  Later that evening, the volunteers found two more owls in the mist net.  One was believed to have been banded at Whitefish Point; the other happened to be the same hatch-year female that we had captured earlier in the night!

After data collection and banding, Brad took the Northern Saw-whet Owl on a tour around the room
Northern Saw-whet Owls aren't much larger than a can of pop, at 6.7-8.6 inches tall.  Their wingspan, however, reaches up to nearly two feet.  The weight of this nocturnal species ranges from 1.9-5.3 ounces.  Females are a bit larger than males.  Hunting takes place primarily at dusk and dawn, with small mammals (and particularly deer mice) being the prey of choice.  Northern Saw-whet Owls inhabit deciduous and coniferous forests with dense, shrubby understories.  They are found from southern Alaska to as far south as Mexico, and from coast to coast in the continental United States.  The year-round and breeding range is generally further north within this overall range, and they generally spend winters in the southern portion of this range; however, breeding occurs along the west coast as well as south through the Rocky Mountains into Mexico.  In Indiana, this species is primarily here during migration.

Not many people have the opportunity to pet an owl!
Thanks to Brad Bumgardner for an interesting evening and the chance to see this tiny but fierce predator!

1 comment:

Beth said...

That owl is adorable!