Can You Hear the Difference Between These Saw-whet Owl Calls?

Listen closely . . .

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of the National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


 This is BirdNote. 
This past summer, a man trying to sleep got really annoyed with his neighbor on the other side of the woods who, he thought, kept backing up a big truck. The next day he grumbled; “What were you doing?  It kept me up most of the night!”

“Oh, you musta heard the Saw-whet Owl!” the neighbor said.

Named for what, to some, sounds like a saw being sharpened on a stone, Northern Saw-whet Owls are common in forests across southern Canada and the northern U.S. At this time of year, many move southward, making a large concentration especially in the region of the Great Lakes.

To our ear, the “advertising call” of the male, made mostly in spring and summer, sounds awfully repetitive. But researchers think female Saw-whets hear variety. See if you can. Here are two males – listen carefully to the pacing of their hoots:

Here’s the first: 

Here’s the second: 

Some give a prelude to their advertising call: 

In the fall, the birds make a “Skew” call: 

And here’s a “twitter call” with a snap of the bill : 

Quite a variety for one of North America’s smallest owls, the Northern Saw-whet...

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.



Sounds of the Northern Saw-whet provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Note recordists above.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Owl call recordings by D. Ross, G.A. Keller, S. Weidensaul, and W.W.H. Gunn. 

© 2011 Tune In to          October 2018     Narrator: Mary McCann