Mystery Bird: Northern Hawk-Owl, Surnia ulula

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[Mystery bird] Northern Hawk-Owl, Surnia ulula, photographed in the Meadows Campground near Hart’s Pass of the Okanogan National Forest, located above the Methow Valley of Eastern Washington [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Lee Rentz, 19 October 2008 [larger view].

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.


Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Even with owls it pays to start at the rear of the bird. Many owls are stocky and stumpy, their wings and their tails about the same length; some, though, like this quiz bird, have decidedly long tails. To judge by the dead twigs it is perched on, this is neither a pygmy-owl nor a Great Gray Owl, but rather a medium-sized bird. Its perch against the sky, its long tail, and its overall gray tone identify it quickly as a Northern Hawk Owl, a species birders all along the US-Canadian border — and even farther south — are busy looking for right now.
This bird is called “Northern” to distinguish it from the Ninox “hawk owls” of Australasia, one species of which, the Brown Hawk Owl, has now occurred twice in the ABA area, once on Kiska and once on St. Paul.
Review all mystery birds to date.

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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Northern Hawk-Owl, Surnia ulula

  1. RM says:

    I am going to say Northern Hawk Owl due to the longer tail, white ear marking, and white-spotted scapulars.

  2. Northern Hawk Owl, based on the dark vertical bars framing the white face, the horizontal barring on the underparts, and the long tail (though actually, this tail looks somewhat shorter than the illustration in the field guide).

  3. Bill says:

    This is THE Northern Hawk Owl that everyone on Tweeters is all atwitter about. It’s a very good bird and a very good photo.

  4. The tree is a dead give away … if only I knew the tree.

  5. Selasphorus says:

    Northern Hawk Owl. The black lines on the face are distinctive. Also, the perching on treetop is a rather disctinctive behavior.

  6. Jerry Broadus says:

    Northern hawk owl perched on top of a black spruce looking for rodent critters. One good place to look for these is near the sled dog kennels at Denali National Park. There are lots of spruces to hunt from and lots of furry critters that show up to steal the dog food from the kennels.

  7. Bump says:

    That’s a hoot owl.