Mike Jacobs Always in Season: Little Owl Causes Face-to-Face Upset – Grand Forks Herald
GILBY, ND — When Amy Boll opened the door to let the dog out one night over the weekend, she found herself face to face with a little owl.
Boll, who lives in Perham, Minnesota, was visiting family near Kempton, North Dakota, southwest of Grand Forks. Her father, Tim Mutchiler, reported the find and sent a photo his daughter had taken.
It’s unclear where the owl is from, but Mutchler is going to invite him to stay. He builds a nest box. Or maybe two.
Northeastern North Dakota is at the southernmost end of the Switch Range. The owl is more common in forested areas to the north and east. There are records of Saw-whet Owls in northeastern North Dakota during the nesting season. I found three in Robert Stewart’s “Breeding Birds of North Dakota” – at Pembina, Grafton and near Devils Lake. Stewart’s book was published in 1975, and while I’m not aware of more recent sightings during the nesting season, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
In Minnesota, little owl nesting has been reported in most wooded areas, although it is considered rare in the state. It is included on the bird checklist at Itasca State Park.
The Society of Manitoba Naturalists classifies the bird as a rare breeder in southern forested areas of the province. It occurs in Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, which adjoins the North Dakota border.
The Grand Forks County Checklist classifies Saw-whet Owl as rare in the spring and casual in the fall. Future editions will probably include Saw-whet Owl among winter birds as well.
Finally, ebird.com, run by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, shows the little owl occurring in North Dakota every month except August. Information is displayed on bar graphs that show relative abundance.
Recent efforts to band migrating owls have shown them to be much more abundant than previously thought. In North Dakota, I’m aware of banding programs in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Missouri River Valley, two areas well outside of the fin’s nesting range. Regional raptor expert Tim Driscoll of Grand Forks has also banded boreal owls at Turtle River State Park.
I have seen sharpening saws near Warren, MN and in Grand Forks, both in December several years apart. Several years ago, a neighbor of mine near Gilby had a little owl perched on his porch.
Probably all these birds are migratory.
Still, I told Mutchler to go. Set up the birdhouse and hope for sharpening saws.
The Saw-whet Owl is one of the smallest owls in North America, but that’s every square inch of an owl. It has the characteristic owl appearance: large-headed, with a heart-shaped face and large eyes. Like other owls, the white saw is a predatory bird, mainly taking mice and voles, but also the occasional small bird.
Although it roosts in public – like on my neighbor’s bridge – it is a secretive bird, often perching tight against the trunk of a tree so that it appears to be a bump or knot rather than a a bird.
Sharpening saws are much more often heard than seen. Their song is a kind of whistle, loud and repetitive. They also have croaks, also repetitive.
Bird books often remark that the bird’s name originated from an imagined similarity to the noise produced by the sharpening of a saw, but there is no agreement that the whistle or croaking is the sound in question.
I must specify that ours are boreal owls. There’s a Northern Saw-whet Owl. It occurs in Central America.
In the spring signs department:
The number of redpolls in my food network has dropped from 150 or more to about a third of that number – still a large number. Redpolls nest at high latitudes in the Arctic, so they have a journey of about 1,500 miles to reach their summer homes.
A small group of pine siskins appeared. Siskins have been absent since early November. It is probably a group of returnees. Like the boreal owls, they probably move towards more northern regions.
Meanwhile, in the signs that it’s still the winter department:
A junco appears daily at one of my feeders, the first of its kind to spend the entire season here.
Sharp-tailed grouse appear daily at feeders. One morning, I saw them interrupt their walks with dance steps. I allowed myself to imagine that they were training for their spring dance.
Jacobs is a retired publisher and editor of the Herald. Contact him at [email protected]