Bird #417 — Northern Saw-whet Owl

aegolius (owl) acadicus (of Acadia, for Nova Scotia)

Monday, January 20, 2003 — 9:55 am

Lisle, Illinois — Morton Arboretum

I drove down to Morton Arboretum where a Hermit Warbler has been seen for the past month or so. (I dropped my daughter at my mom’s on the way and picked her up on the way home.) I wasn’t too interested in making the drive down until I heard that a Northern Saw-whet Owl was in the same area. The area where both birds have been seen is a mixed pine grove near the visitor center (which was under construction). An IBET e-mail said to look for the owl in the weeping pine near the four columns. I walked around for about 20 minutes looking in every pine that looked like it might be weeping or even slightly depressed.

Then I saw one that looked exactly like a weeping pine. I walked over to it and saw droppings underneath. I looked up and saw a Northern Saw-whet Owl. It was maybe 15 feet above my head. It was sleeping, with its feathers puffed up. I walked around the tree and saw it from several angles. I moved off a little ways and looked in the field guide to make sure I saw all the marks. When I walked back under the tree, it was perched upright with it’s feathers in, looking very tiny. It stared at me for the five minutes I stared at it.

I wandered off and soon ran into an older couple who were looking for the warbler. I told them about the owl and showed it to them. I wandered off again and met two very ugly women who were looking for either bird. I took them to the owl. It was a lifer for them too, and they were appreciative. I didn’t tell them that it was a lifer for me a few minutes earlier. I was glad I found it on my own.

I hung around the general area for another hour. There were no other birds except for a Sharp-shinned Hawk that was hanging out in an evergreen thicket. When I first saw it, I thought I’d found another owl because it was so still and I was so close (maybe 15 feet away). It didn’t pay any attention to me. I wondered if I could count the Sharp-shin as the warbler since there was a pretty good chance the warbler was inside the hawk.

I ate lunch and took a seven-mile walk around the park trails. Before I left I looked one more time at the owl. It was in the same place, but now was sleeping again with its beak tucked under its wing feathers.

It was tiny, about as tall as my hand. Its back and short tail were a warm brown with large white spots. Its belly was white with large rufous streaks. The undertail coverts were white. Its face was brown with streaks like spokes on disks around the eyes. The forehead had tinier vertical white streaks on a brown wedge that pointed down to its beak. Above the beak and over both eyes, there was white in a Y-shape. Its beak was black, its feet and eyes yellow. There was off-white frosting-like whitewash on the branches immediately below and four small black pellets on the ground. I made five separate visits to the tree to see it.

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