Few animals charm humans more quickly than the northern saw-whet owl (aegolius acadicus). The bird’s small size (roughly 7-8” tall) and large head with yellow eyes are almost irresistible to students. Keith Crowley, director of Chewonki’s Traveling Natural History Programs, and his staff are thrilled to be getting to know two saw-whets now making Chewonki home. Says TNHP instructor Emma Balasz, “We’re just delighted to have two of these unique and exciting owls here. Although they are very common in Maine, most people don’t see them because they’re so small.” Emma notes that wildlife biologists used to think that saw-whets did not migrate but recent studies have shown that at this time of year they are moving south and west. This seasonal movement seems to increase the risk of injury.
TNHP instructors always prefer that wild animals live in their natural setting but these owls both suffered shoulder injuries and can no longer survive on their own. Once they’re fully healed and receive approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they will become part of educational programs that we take to schools, libraries, elder homes, and other organizations all over Maine and beyond.
Through a great twist of fate, the parent of a student at North Elementary School in Madison, Maine, brought one of these injured owls to the school on the very day that TNHP instructor Matt Weeks was there presenting a lesson about Maine owls. En route back to Wiscasset, Matt got a telephone call asking him to return to the school to pick up the owl, which students had already named Noel (short for “North Elementary”). Chewonki delivered Noel to Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom. A couple of weeks later, Noel came to Chewonki. Meanwhile, the North Elementary School students had made Noel their official mascot!
Totoba is our other new saw-whet. The name came from a Menominee Native American myth about the creation of the night. Someone found Totoba in West Forks and the little owl arrived at Avian Haven in late October. After a few weeks of recovery there, Totoba was ready to come to Chewonki and is now ensconced in an aviary with Noel.
These two beautiful little owls will be great teachers. We’re taking good care of them.