Can You See Why I’m In Love?

…is the question I pose to my husband when I return home following my first-ever encounter with the bird in the photograph above on May 25. My inaugural meeting with a juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is made possible thanks to a fellow birder who has espied her (I’m randomly assigning a gender) shortly before I happen to run into him at a popular local park. He generously tells me about his discovery, gives me detailed instructions about how to reach the tree in which her nest cavity is located, and shows me a photo he has taken.

But he also makes me promise to keep the location a secret, as it might otherwise attract too much attention and result in a potentially critical disturbance for the bird at a crucial stage of life. This is in accordance with the American Birding Association’s Birding Code of Ethics (other birding organizations have published similar rules of conduct).

After making my way to the area I recognize the tree and entrance to her nursery right away, but there is no owl. Has she flown into one of the adjacent trees? I systematically scan all nearby trunks and branches, seeing and hearing a number of different bird species, but no owl. Should I leave and come back another time, or hang out and wait? I opt for the latter, lingering in the grove, keeping my gaze trained on the cavity from a distance.

When I behold some slight stirring at the target tree, my heart responds in kind—with a stirring of its own. I watch excitedly as a fuzzy face peers cautiously above the rim of the tree chamber, before, inch by inch, she presents all of her glorious, regal owlness. Very aware of my presence and staring directly into my soul with her big eyes, she does not appear bothered by me and remains perched in full view for several minutes, before vanishing down into the tree trunk from whence she had emerged. This appearing and disappearing act is repeated a couple of times before the owl decides to remain in hiding, and I to take my leave. In subsequent days I return to this spot twice more without catching additional glimpses of the bird, who might not have been in the mood to be the center of attention, or who might have fledged already, as she seemed close to reaching that milestone.

The name Northern Saw-whet Owls is generally attributed to the fact that one of its calls reminded someone of a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone. The adult female lays 3 to 7 eggs which are incubated for 26 to 29 days. Once they hatch, the owlets remain in their nests for 27 to 34 days before fledging. Based on the size of this nesting site, there might be only one juvenile, even though the possibility of several more hiding inside the trunk is tantalizing.

It is a surprise for me to learn that Northern Saw-whet Owls are among North America’s most common owls in forested northern regions year-round, and across the U.S. during winter. They are also among the smallest, with adults reaching a length of only 8 inches (20.3 cm) and a weight of only 2.8 ounces (80 g). Because they are nocturnal, they aren’t usually visible during the day. I had never come across this species before—and might never have done so without help. If you live in an area where this owl occurs, keep your eyes open and take a careful look at holes in tree trunks, or listen for its too-too-too-too vocalization. Click here for a sound recording by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and for the full profile and range map of this charismatic creature.

With regard to my introductory question, once I share my owl photos with my husband, there is but one possible way for him to respond: “Of course, I can see why you are in love!”

I hope you agree.

80 thoughts on “Can You See Why I’m In Love?

  1. Excellent post, Tanja! Currently I’m in a clinic located next to big forest. When I wake up early in the morning I can hear an owl or brown owl calling. Unfortunatly, I’m not an expert in bird’s voices and cannot identify the bird exactly, but anyway, it’s great to listen to. Thanks, Uwe

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Uwe. How exciting that you are hearing an owl calling. It always gives me chills, but in the best of all possible ways.
      Maybe one of the local residents will be able to tell you what species of owl it is you are hearing. I’m always grateful for help by local experts.


  2. Wonderful images, Tanja. I’ve never seen an owl, although they’re supposed to reside in the area behind my apartment building. Other residents on that side have had them visit and stand on their balcony fences. Apparently, raptors and other large birds have also landed on apartment fencing.

    I have seen a Tawny Frogmouth when I used to live on the inner north-eastern side of the city though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Vicki, and sorry for the late response. I had to fish your comment out of my spam folder, not sure why I was sent there.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the owl photos and I hope you might have the opportunity to see an owl for yourself. Maybe you could spend a little time around dawn or dusk behind your building and listen for them. Sound is a good way to narrow down their location.

      Seeing a Tawny Frogmouth must have been special. Like owls, frogmouths seem very charismatic.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Diese Begegnungen der besonderen Art geben uns eine Art Erfüllung, nicht wahr. Ein Lebenstraum, in der Natur und mit der Natur zu agieren.
    Ich wünsche Dir viele weitere solcher wunderbaren Begegnungen.
    Liebe Grüße

    Liked by 2 people

    • Herzlichen Dank, liebe Maren. Es ist wirklich so, daß diese glückseligen Momente mir helfen, das Leben besser zu ertragen, und ich bin unendlich dankbar, wenn ich sie erlebe. Das geht Dir sicher ähnlich.
      Herzlichen Gruß,

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with your husband – it’s easy to see why you fell in love with ‘her’. She’s a real beauty and blends well with her tree. How lucky you are to have such an encounter – thanks for sharing it with us! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I not only understand how you could be in love with this precious creature, I also know that love at first sight is possible. I fell in love with a fat, green caterpillar whose photo Steve posted years ago: so much so that I immediately purchased a photo, named it the Big Green Guy, and now having its portrait hanging on my wall.

    I’ve never heard of the Northern Saw-whet, but I do know the sound of a saw being sharpened on a whetstone. I’ll go over to the Cornell site and compare my memory of that sound with the vocalizations of this little beauty. I’m still waiting to see my first owl of any sort in the wild; perhaps I need to listen to the calls of our local species, and see if I might have heard them without realizing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think all of us have experienced instances of “love at first sight” and am glad you are still in love with your Big Green Guy.

      I hope you will have an owl encounter in the wild. It’s always an awe-inspiring moment for me.

      I’m not sure I would have thought of a whetting stone with regard to one of the owls’ call, but then it’s not a sound I have heard often, if at all. I’m curious if you think that it’s an apropos comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful sighting. My mother loved owls and she would have adored your images, particularly the last one in which the subject is clearly attempting to out-stare the photographer! What a brilliant bird 🙂.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Of note, my friends near Fort Collins also saw an owl the same week that you did. It was a Pygmy Owl.

    Your photos are wonderful, the owl is adorable, and of course you have every right to be enamored!

    Presently a feathered creature is demanding my attention as well; I first saw the Common Potoo on Saturday, when I happened to peer almost overhead while setting up on the roof of my truck — so I could draw (work?) while watching birds. I’d been there ten minutes, and when I saw the potoo, I spilled my cup of mixed nuts — goodness, a dinosaur might not have surprised me as much! So – on Saturday and on Sunday I watched for the last two hours of the day – and noted when it awakened from its stupor and began to sally… and stayed fifteen or so minutes more until night nudged me home. The Common Potoo has a lovely call – lovely for anyone who knows it, but it might scare anyone under a full moon who did not know the owner of the voice:

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s nice to know that it was an owly week for your Ft. Collins friend and for me. Pygmy Owls are always special to see. All of my encounters happened because the owls were harassed by other birds who weren’t happy about its presence. So whenever I hear a ruckus from a tree, I take extra care and look for an owl.

      Were I to see a potoo, I would also drop whatever I was holding at that moment. How exciting that you were able to watch it become active for several days in a row. Thank you for sharing the link with the sound recordings–I absolutely love their call, am listening to one right now. 😊


      • Owl week; owl month? Yesterday three friends and I trekked through that refugio, said ‘hi/buenos dias’ to the potoo, then went to the highest point to begin the serious trek. Within thirty seconds of getting out of the truck, one friend spied a Striped Owl perched only a few meters from the ground in thick scrubby area close to the little open-air palm thatched rest area. The four of us froze, admired, photographed (from afar) and then we all sat on the ground like children watching Santa Claus — I think we could have stayed there all day! Cornell states that this species prefers to eat rodents, so it probably keeps an eye on the trash container under the rest area. Add the Burrowing Owl to the ABA’s bird of the year, and it seems to be the year of the owl!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Hach…..wie kann man nur sooooo niedlich sein?
    Ich bin so sehr begeistert von diesem fantastischen Foto, dass ich es immerzu anschauen könnte. Die kleinen Eulen sind einfach wunderbar und wer nicht gerade ein Herz aus Stein hat, kann gar nicht anders, als diese zauberhaften Lebewesen zu lieben.
    Im Mischwald hinter unserem Garten leben Waldkäuze, deren unverwechselbaren Rufe wir ab und zu abends hören. Ich habe mir darum eine “Kauzpfeife” besorgt, mit der ich mich mit den Käuzen “unterhalten” kann, was auch tatsächlich ab und zu klappt.
    Vielen Dank, liebe Tanja, für diesen herrlichen post!
    Liebe Grüße💖 von Rosie

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I absolutely agree…. we’ve heard them in the woods behind our house, but never have caught a glimpse in the thick trees and brush up there. You are SO LUCKY… and I’m so glad I didn’t miss this post!!!!!! 🙏💞

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m also glad you didn’t miss the post, Gunta. I do feel lucky about having seen this adorable owl, but I might not have without the generous explanation of a fellow birder.
      I hope the owl behind your house will grant you some glimpses and, better yet, a couple of photos! 🦉

      Liked by 1 person

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