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Northern Saw-whet Owl -
Native Species Global Rank
Agency Status USFWS
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Round-headed, eyes yellow, bill black. Facial disk reddish/brown; forehead has short white vertical streaks. Ventrally reddish/brown streaking extends from neck to belly. Dorsally brown with white spots. Juvenile has dark reddish/brown facial disk and white forehead. Upper chest is reddish/brown grading into dark rust belly and flanks. Juveniles molt into adult-like plumage by early winter. SIZE: seven to eight inches. WEIGHT: three to four ounces. VOICE: A monotonous, "
Toot, toot, toot
," given rapidly and consistently throughout the night. Similar to one of the Northern Pygmy-Owl's calls.
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see
Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Boreal Owls are slightly larger, have a yellow/white bill, rectangular head, whitish facial disk, and are darker brown overall with no reddish tinge.
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Not Regularly Observed
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
Migratory although some birds may remain throughout winter.
Most common in coniferous forests; however, they can be found in deciduous trees along watercourses.
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system,
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at:
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
Predominately small mice, although small birds and insects are probably also eaten.
Begins nesting in April. Nests in woodpecker holes and possibly natural cavities. Clutch size four to six. Incubation approximately 30 days. Young just out of nest reported on May 29 and July 12. Egg dates probably similar to Alberta: April 18 to June 8.
Literature Cited Above
Legend: View Online Publication Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages. Additional References
Legend: View Online Publication Do you know of a citation we're missing? American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p. Anaconda Minerals Company, and Camp, Dresser & McKee. 1981. Anaconda Stillwater Project 6-month environmental baseline report. CDM Project No. 3139. Vol. I Appendix. Jan. 15, 1981. Brelsford, M. 1992. Boreal owl (Aegolius funereus) and flammulated owl (Otus flammeolus) survey results for the Bozeman district of the Gallatin National Forest. Unpublished report to the Gallatin National Forest by the Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 20 pp. Brelsford, M. 1992. Boreal owl (Aegolius funereus) and flammulated owl (Otus flammeolus) survey results for the Livingston district of the Gallatin National Forest. Unpublished report to the Gallatin National Forest by the Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 22 pp. Call, M.W. 1979. Habitat management guides for birds of prey. Technical Note 338. Denver, CO: USDI Bureau of Land Management. 70 p. Cameron, E. S. 1908. The birds of Custer and Dawson counties, Montana. Auk 25:39-56. Cannings, R. J. 1987. The breeding biology of northern saw-whet owls in southern British Columbia. Pp. 193-198. in: Nero, R.W., et al., (eds). Biology and conservation of northern forest owls. USDA For. Serv., Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-142. Cannings, R.J. 1993. Northern Saw-whet Owl ( Aegolius acadicus). Species Account Number 042. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database Carlson, J. 1991. Results of boreal owl surveys on the Jefferson Division of the Lewis & Clark National Forest. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 33 pp. Decker Coal Co., 1981, Wildlife survey. July 7, 1981. In North Decker 5-Year Permit Application. Vol. III. Rule 26.4.304(12-14). Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp. Farmer, Patrick J., and Thomas W. Butts, Western Technology & Eng., Inc., Helena, MT., 1994, McDonald Project Terrestrial Wildlife Study, November 1989 - November 1993. April 1994. In McDonald Gold Project: Wildlife & Fisheries. [#18]. Seven-up Pete Joint Venture, Lincoln, MT. Unpub. No date. Hays, R., R.L. Eng, and C.V. Davis (preparers). 1984. A list of Montana birds. Helena, MT: MT Dept. of Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Hayward, G.D. and E.O. Garton. 1988. Resource partitioning among forest owls in the River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho. Oecologia 75:253-265. Hejl, S.J., R.L. Hutto, C.R. Preston, and D.M. Finch. 1995. The effects of silvicultural treatments on forest birds in the Rocky Mountains. pp. 220-244 In: T.E. Martin and D.M. Finch (eds). Ecology and Management of Neotropical Migratory Birds. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press. 489 p. Hendricks, P. 2005. Surveys for animal species of concern in northwestern Montana. Unpublished report to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, Montana, May 2005. 53 p. Holt, D. W., and L. A. Leroux. 1996. Diets of Northern Pygmy-Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owls in west-central Montana. Wilson Bulletin 108(1):123-128. Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp. Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp. Lockhart, J. Michael, 1976, Effects of coal extraction and related development on wildlife populations. Annual progress report; Calendar year 1976. In Decker Coal Company West Pit Permit. Vol. 3. 26.4.304(10-11), 305, 306, and 307. Updated Rules Rewrite, July 1, 1991. Appendix F. Marks, J.S. and J.H. Doremus. 1988. Breeding-season diet of Northern Saw-whet Owls in southwestern Idaho. Wilson Bull. 100:690-694. Maxell, B.A. 2016. Flammulated Owl surveys on the Big Timber, Bozeman, Gardiner and Livingston Ranger Districts of the Custer Gallatin National Forest: 2013. Report to Custer Gallatin National Forest. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 27pp + appendices. Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map. MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks. No date. Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area checklist. Mullen, P.D. 1990. Status report on boreal owl surveys in southwestern Montana, 1989. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 16 p. + Appendices OEA Research, Helena, MT., 1982, Beal Mine Wildlife Report. June 17, 1982. Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p. Palmer, D. A. 1987. Annual, seasonal, and nightly variation in calling activity of boreal and northern saw-whet owls. Pp. 162-168 in Nero, R.W., et al., eds. Biol. & Cons. of n. forest owls. U.S. For. Serv., Gen. Tech Rep. RM-142. Palmer, D.A. 1986. Habitat selection, movements and activity of Boreal and Saw-whet Owls. M.S. thesis, Colo. State Univ., Fort Collins. 101 pp. Phillips, R.L., A.H. Wheeler, N.C. Forrester, J.M. Lockhart, and T.P. McEneaney. 1990. Nesting ecology of golden eagles and other raptors in southeastern Montana and northern Wyoming. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Tech. Rep. 26:1-13. Ralph, J.C., J.R. Sauer, and S. Droege. 1995. Monitoring bird populations by point counts. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-149. Albany, CA: USDA Pacific Southwest Research Station. 181 p. Rogers, Ralph R. 1998. A Survey of Forest-Dwelling Owls in the Judith Resource Area of Central Montana. A Report for the USDI BLM Judith Resource Area. 10 pp + tables. Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp. Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69. Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p. Thompson, Richard W., Western Resource Dev. Corp., Boulder, CO., 1996, Wildlife baseline report for the Montana [Montanore] Project, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Montana. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operation, Montanore Project, Lincoln and Sanders Counties, Montana. Vol. 5. Stroiazzo, John. Noranda Minerals Corp., Libby, MT. Revised September 1996. U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages. Waage, Bruce C., 1996, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: 1995 Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report; December 1, 1994 - November 30, 1995. February 28, 1996. Waage, Bruce C., 1999, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: 1998 Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report; December 1, 1997 - November 30, 1998 Survey Period. February 24, 1999. Walcheck, K.C. 1970. Nesting bird ecology of four plant communities in the Missouri River Breaks, Montana. Wilson Bulletin 82(4):370-382. Waldt, R. 1995. The Pine Butte Swamp Preserve bird list. Choteau, MT: The Nature Conservancy. Updated August 1995. Watts, C.R. and L.C. Eichhorn. 1981. Changes in the birds of central Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 40:31-40. Westmoreland Resources, Inc., Hardin, MT., 1981, 1981 Wildlife Report. April 1982. Zackheim, K. 1973. Exhibit H: Wildlife Study. In Ash Grove Cement Co. files. Web Search Engines for Articles on "Northern Saw-whet Owl"
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