#bioPGH Blog: Northern Saw-whet Owls
Nov 12

#bioPGH Blog: Northern Saw-whet Owls

By Lorren Kezmoh, Outreach Coordinator, Phipps Science Education and Research

Biophilia NetworkA resource of Biophilia: Pittsburgh, #bioPGH is a weekly blog and social media series that aims to encourage both children and adults to reconnect with nature and enjoy what each of our distinctive seasons has to offer. From the best times to plant seasonal flora and enjoy their peak blooms, to astronomical events and creatures to keep an eye and ear out for, Phipps will keep you in the know with what’s going on in our environment!

Although you may not readily notice it, Pittsburgh sees its fair share of animal migrations throughout the fall and winter months. While it may seem strange for several species of fauna to pass through the city during their migrations, it’s actually not uncommon at all as many of these species have been utilizing the same migration routes through Pittsburgh for many years-long before the iconic fountain and skyline appeared! Did you know that one of the species passing through Pittsburgh right now is, Aegolius acadicus, also known as the Northern Saw-whet Owl? These little owls are approximately seven to eight inches in length, have an oversized round head equipped with large orange-yellow eyes, and weigh a little more than an American robin. This owl is commonly found preying on mice and other small mammals in forests throughout northern North America. From mid-October through December these tiny owls embark on a solo, and rather slow, nighttime migration from their breeding grounds in southern Canada and the northern U.S., with some passing through Pittsburgh, to locations farther south.

Connecting to the Outdoors Tip: Pittsburghers have a unique opportunity to not only observe these tiny owls as they migrate through the city, but also the ornithologists as they study them! Each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night from mid-October to early December, weather permitting, Bob Mulvihill and his team of volunteers from the National Aviary venture to Sewickley Heights Borough Park to collect important biological information on the Northern Saw-whet Owls that migrate through Pittsburgh for Project Owlnet, a banding project to determine the timing, intensity and pace of migration of the Northern Saw-whet Owl. Anyone is welcome to join Pittsburgh’s Project Owlnet in Sewickley Heights Borough Park at any time during the days listed above for a chance to speak with avian experts, see these little owls up close, and simply enjoy some nocturnal urban ecology! If you aren’t able to make it to the park you can still support Project Owlnet and the great work that Bob Mulvihill and his team are conducting by ‘adopting’ your very own Northern Saw-whet Owl through the National Aviary. You can even craft a Saw-whet Owl out of pinecones and felt with little ones. These little pinecone owls aren’t just for kids though, they also double as a great adult craft and make perfect ornaments and holiday decorations!

Continue the Conversation: Share your nature discoveries with our community by posting to Twitter and Instagram with hashtag #bioPGH, and R.S.V.P. to attend our next Biophilia: Pittsburgh meeting.

Additional Resources:
Northern Saw-whet Owl - Audubon Field Guide
Borough of Sewickley Heights Park
Pittsburgh Project Owlnet - National Aviary
Adopt a Saw-whet Owl - National Aviary
Felt and Pinecone Owl Ornaments - Lia Griffith

Select photos © Paul g. Wiegman