Northern Saw-whet Owl
(Aegolius acadicus)


Picture of bird
© Chuck Kling
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is the most common owl found across most of southern Canada. Like other owls, it is a difficult species to monitor because of its nocturnal habits. Results from provincial owl surveys combined with continental data from the Christmas Bird Count suggest a possible increase in the population in Canada relative to 1970, though the reliability of this assessment is considered low. For an assessment of the population status of the Northern Saw-whet Owl brooksi subspecies found only on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) in British Columbia, see that account. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.

See also:

Northern Saw-whet Owl brooksi subspecies


Listing of the main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Threatened2006Northern Saw-whet Owl brooksi subspecies
SARA (Canada)Threatened2007Northern Saw-whet Owl brooksi subspecies
IUCN (Global)Least Concern2012 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2010 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic areaStatusReliability
CanadaModerate IncreaseLow

Population estimate

Canada500,000 to 5,000,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation of world population


Conservation and management

Northern Saw-whet Owls are highly nocturnal predators; their main prey over most of their range is the deer mouse (Rasmussen et al. 2008). They nest in cavities excavated by large woodpeckers (Northern Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers), but will also readily use appropriate nest boxes (Rasmussen et al. 2008). Local population densities can vary widely from year to year, presumably fluctuating with the density of prey (Marks and Doremus 2000, Confer et al. 2014). The Northern Saw-whet Owl prefers older forests and woodlots (Rasmussen et al. 2008), which provide the birds with the nest-sites and openings for foraging that they require. Given the changes to these habitats as a result of industrial logging, it is important to monitor this species’ population trends in the future. For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view available recovery documents, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Quebec Region
Boreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Hardwood Transition, sub-region and priority type: Quebec Region
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Quebec Region
Great BasinGreat Basin, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon Region
Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence PlainLower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, sub-region and priority type: Quebec Region
Northern RockiesNorthern Rockies, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon Region