Northern Hawk Owl

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Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)

The Northern Hawk Owl is a medium sized owl with a long tail and no ear tufts. The facial disc is whitish, broadly rimmed blackish at the sides. Eyebrows are white, and eyes are pale yellow (golden yellow in juvenile). The bill is pale yellowish-green and the cere pale greyish-brown. Upperparts are dark grey to dusky greyish-brown, with the crown densely spotted whitish and the nape with indistinct false eyes. Mantle and back are dusky grey with some whitish dots. Scapulars are mainly white, forming rather broad white bands across shoulder. Flight feathers are dark grey-brown with rows of white spots. the Tail is long and graduated and dark greyish-brown with several narrow whitish bars. Underparts are whitish, barred with Greyish-brown. Legs and toes are feathered. The soles of the toes are dirty yellow, and claws are dark brown with blackish tips.

They have a body length of 14 -18 inches, wingspan of 28 inches and a body weight of 8.5-16 ounces.

Their habitat is normally open boreal coniferous forests with clearing to hunt in. They are a northern hemispheric bird and can be found across Canada, parts of Alaska, northern Europe and Asia.

Northern Hawk Owls get their name for their hawk-like look and behaviour. They are diurnal hunters meaning they hunt during the daylight hours. Unlike the ambush hunting tactics of many owls they are active hunters. Quite often found on high perches where they can use their amazing eye site. It is reported they can see prey up to 800 meters or half a mile away. While their eye sight is their primary sense they still have fabulous hearing and can hear a rodent under a foot of snow. Once they see or hear a potential meal they soar rapidly and silently to their meal. This makes it sometimes very difficult to get a great inflight Northern Hawk Owl photograph since they are smaller than some of the larger owls and move at an incredible speed at only a foot or two above the ground.

Their prey is normally small mammals but small they will also hunt small birds, frogs and even fish. One thing that is very interesting about Hawk Owls is that they will cache food for days when it is not feasable to hunt. If they cannot hunt on a day because of unfavourable weather they will retrieve one of their frozen cached food and sit on it to thaw them out before eating.

Breeding normally starts in the late winter to early spring. Male advertises potential nest sites, and the female selects one. Nests in Cavities on top of broken trunks, natural tree hollows, abandoned holes of large woodpeckers. Will accept nest boxes, and occasionally use a stick nest of a larger bird. Laying normally occurs in April and the first half of May. Clutch sizes are usually between 5 and 13 eggs. Eggs are laid at 1-2 day intervals, and incubated by the female alone for 25-30 days. During this time, the male feeds the female. After hatching, the chicks are brooded for 13-18 days, and leave the nest at 23-30 days, and can fly well by the time they are about 5-6 weeks old. They become independent of their parent’s care towards the end of August. They become sexually mature towards the end of their first year. Pairs are monogamous during breeding season.

(Note: Northern Hawk Owls have little fear of humans and may attack if their young are approached too closely. They are fast and silent when flying, with very sharp talons. So if you come upon some juveniles and cannot resist getting that once in a life time Northern Hawk Owl picture be aware of your distance and where the parents are located. Using a long lens would be a good idea.)

References: Cornell Labs of Ornithology, The Owl Pages, Wikipedia