Y.B. Sappy?
'Twas the Dawn before Christmas ...

My Column: The Christmas Tree Owl

Screen Shot 2020-11-25 at 10.21.15 AM
My column this week is about Saw-whet Owls in general and the little guy found on the Rockefeller Center tree in particular.

We also found an owl on our Christmas tree, a gift from friends. IMG_0438

Did not have to relocate him, thankfully.

Patty and I are big fans of Saw-whet Owls, and even have one carved by the legendary Stiles Thomas (below).

The shot above is from the Meadowlands -- the only Saw-whet I've seen in Bergen County.

You can read the column here:


By Jim Wright

Special to The Record

Since this is my last “Bird Watcher” column for 2020, I thought I’d end on an upbeat note and announce my choice for Bird of the Year.  

I must confess it didn’t take long to choose a winner, even if she’s not a Jersey gIMG_0439irl. 

With this being Christmas Eve, how could I not choose the little saw-whet owl that made a surprise appearance in mid-November in Rockefeller Center’s holiday tree? And the story has a happy ending to boot.

The three-ounce owl was discovered when a worker setting up the 75-foot Norway spruce found it perched on a branch. “Rockefeller,” as it was dubbed, immediately became a media darling -- even if a few of the early descriptions were a bit off the mark. 

  The first thing that made me chuckle was how several media sites referred to the owl as a baby. It was no baby, just small. It would be like calling a Chihuahua a baby dog. Very sweet, in a way, but wide of the mark

  Similarly, although some described Rockefeller as a stowaway, it’s not as if the owl hid in the evergreen in hopes of getting a free ride to Manhattan. 

More likely, the owl remained perched in the tree after it was cut down in Oneonta in upstate New York because the owl had a head injury (more on that shortly) and did not realize the tree was being toppled.

One reason for the media confusion is that so few people in this region have ever seen a saw-whet. That’s not only because these owls are so small but also because they literally and figuratively fly under the radar.

   As the late Len Soucy,  founder of The Raptor Trust, once explained to me: “Most of the saw-whets we see have been conked. They’re nocturnal, and they’re not high-fliers. From the time they leave Canada until they fly all the way to New Jersey or wherever they’re bound, they don’t get more than 10 feet in the air -- ever.”

Saw-whet owls are not exactly rare in Northern New Jersey. I was fortunate to see one in the Meadowlands several years ago. I thought I heard one calling outside a window in my home in Allendale one evening a few years back (someone once described the call as resembling the back-up signal of a vehicle), but I couldn’t find it.

But the best part about the Rockefeller-the-Owl story is the happy ending. Some kind folks transported her to a raptor rehabilitation center in Saugerties, N.Y., where she was nursed back to health and released into the wild.  

This time of year, she reminds us that when something like this happens, some goodwill toward owls goes a long way. ’Tis the season. Happy holidays.

The Bird-watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at [email protected].