Friday, December 31

Detecting Northern Saw-whet Owls by Ear

Roosting Northern Saw-whet Owls are extremely difficult to find in migration or on wintering grounds even though they are quite common, and the assumption may be that there aren't any around. Cedars and honeysuckle tangles can be searched but often without reward, as even though most saw-whets are found at these sites, most likely most saw-whets roost elsewhere.
There is one way though to detect them with which considerable success can be achieved. That is by playing back a call (not song), either whine or "ksew", at night. The response is usually immediate, and most often only a single whine (a ksew response would be unusual). I prefer to use the ksew call as it is short and less likely to overlap the response, and I have a feeling that it actually works better than the whine. It's important to pick the right location: most birds call from wooded thickets alongside creeks. The less wind the better for easier hearing as calls are often not loud, and most birds only call once. The following recording is a typical example of what happens when a bird answers, except that I obtained a second response for good measure.

Hopefully you'll have success too and we'll find out a little bit more about these cute little guys.

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