By Sabina Mollot and Maria Rocha-Buschel
Guess whooooo recently visited Stuyvesant Town?
A resident spotted this brown and white owl on Monday as it perched on a railing by the mezzanine of 525 East 14th Street. He told Town & Village that he’s seen lots of different birds in the neighborhood but the owl was an unusual find in the city. The resident, Mario, who didn’t want his last name mentioned, also noted that he wasn’t expecting to capture this little guy on camera in broad daylight but pulled out his phone and managed to get some shots of the obliging raptor.
Upon seeing the photos, Anne Lazarus, a longtime birder who leads bird watching tours in Stuyvesant Town and Stuyvesant Cove, identified this visitor as a Northern Saw-whet Owl, noting the lack of ear tufts.
“The Northern Saw-whet Owls have been showing up this year,” said Lazarus, adding that a few have been spotted in Central Park. Additionally, despite its size, the owl seen in Stuy Town is not a baby, but an adult, with Northern Saw-whets being one of the smallest owl species in North America. They are comparable, size-wise, to robins.
Unfortunately, these owls are frequent targets of the bird paparazzi, who (unlike Mario) will use flash photography and go right up to the birds, Lazarus has observed.
“It is such a problem,” she said. The best way to photograph birds, Lazarus, is to “take a distant, discreet picture and go.”
Along with over-enthusiastic fans, these owls, like other urban birds, face risks of flying into glass windows. The Wild Bird Fund has been receiving a few of these owls that are believed to have hit glass. Hawks, who rule the roost in Stuyvesant Town, are another natural enemy. As are other, smaller birds who’ve been known to bully (in groups) hawks and owls.
“If Jays and crows are excited and going after something with caution, take another look,” said Lazarus. “It could be an owl or a hawk. They do not mess with the peregrine falcons or eagles, but they do mob.”
“I hope it hides somewhere,” she added, of the owl. “It is vulnerable. I wish it all the luck.”
According to the National Audubon Society, there has recently been an irruption, a spike in the Saw-whet Owl’s numbers, in Manhattan. Normally, they live in coniferous forests.
“It’s not uncommon for an owl to be in Manhattan, but they are typically hidden in trees and can often be difficult to spot,” said Chandler Lennon, a spokesperson for Audubon. “If the Northern Saw-whet Owl is high up in a tree and doesn’t look distressed or sick, it should be fine and is likely taking a nap.”
He did however confirm that by being out in the day and not shrouded in a tree, it is at a higher risk of being preyed upon by a hawk, or even other owls. And, as Lazarus warned, “It is also at risk of a window collision due to the many apartment windows in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village,” Lennon said.
If anyone spots the owl again and believes it could be in danger, Lennon recommends calling the Wild Bird Fund at (646) 306-2862.
The name of the Northern Saw-whet came about due to the “rhythmic, tooting” song made by males for hours on end during breeding season that has been compared to the sound of whetstone sharpening a saw. According to The Audubon Society, despite some loss in habitat, they are still widespread and fairly common.