So far 2017 has started off with bitter cold temperatures, making it hard to get out to photograph. Luckily we received a small break in the weather and I set out for my first birding adventure of the year. Recently there have been some sightings of a small, secretive owl found in Iowa. Since this is an owl I have never seen before, I was up to the challenge of finding one of the smallest owls in North America: Northern Saw-Whet Owl. During the winter season, the owls will leave their breeding territory in Canada and migrate down to central and southern United States. The northern saw-whet owls prefer to roost in dense conifer forest, with an open understory for foraging. Searching for these owls can be quiet challenging to spot them among the shadowy conifers, especially with them only being eight inches high, which is about the size of a robin. It takes a sharp eye to find these owls in its daytime roost, most often tucked close to the trunk of a cedar tree.
Once I arrived at the location, I headed over to the dense forested habitat. I quietly and slowly moved from tree to tree looking for a tiny shadow. With a little patience, I was able to spot the tiny owl roosting on some lower branches, fast asleep. These owls are nocturnal and set out to hunt from lower perches along the forest edge at night catching mice and small mammals.
Without disturbing the owl I was able to find a few openings in the tree branches to take a few pictures. After waiting for some time I decided to give the owl its space, maybe next time I will be able to see those big, bright yellow eyes. It was a great adventure and was exciting to add this owl to my birding life list.
These owls can be seen all over the state of Iowa in the winter season, but often go unnoticed by most people unless one is looking for them. It is quite special to hear the non-stop too-too-too calling of the saw-whet owl, and even more exciting to actually see one. Next time you are out hiking in the winter, get out and explore the conifer forest you never know what little creatures are hiding! Enjoy!