01 March 2018

A strange sound in the night

For the past week, a most unusual sound has been emanating from the woods behind our house.  It was so monotonously repetitive, so mechanical-sounding, that I had doubts about it having a biological origin and initially suspected some equipment malfunction at a neighbor's house. 

Today a quick web search yielded the answer.  I've lived near woods for much of my life and have heard all sorts of owls, but didn't recognize this one.  Saw-whets are native to the boreal forests of Canada, but often winter further south in deciduous forests of the northern U.S.

The nocturnal call has been likened to the sound of a saw being whetted - thus the name.

(educational video here)


  1. I sat bolt upright in bed one night to the sound of a banshee being strangled in my backyard. Took a bit of research & time to determine it was a barn owl (which apparently was passing thru, since I've never heard it again). Owl-noises are in a class of their own.


  2. my favorite 'weird owl call' is the eastern screech owl https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/sounds


  3. the 'beep - beep - beep' sound reminds me of something you would hear in a hospital room. i do not get the comparison to whetting. however, when that owl was named, there probably were not a lot of hospital monitors around, so whetting would have been the closest approximation.


  4. Many years ago I worked for a wildlife sanctuary in Two Rivers were we caught and banded Saw-whets. It is amazing how small and light they are.
    And of course their call isn't "owl-like" at all. Very cool!


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