The Northern Hawk Owl is the only species in its genera, Surnia. Though its scientific name comes from the Greek for ill omen, it is its common name that alludes to the fact that it has hawk like characteristics. Indeed it is different from other owls. With its long tail, pointed wings and direct raptor-like flight it is an active daylight hunter specializing in small rodents and birds as large as Ruffed Grouse.
These northern owls, along with Great Gray, Snowy and Boreal, are irruptive species, meaning that in years when the prey population plunges in their normal winter range they venture south. It has been an excellent year for seeing them with no less than 4 Northern Hawk Owls in the Ottawa area alone. We picked one and were rewarded with an extraordinary show. Perched atop an isolated ash tree it was constantly rotating its head looking far and near. It had already hunted successfully this morning as we could clearly see blood on the bill. Taking off, it dropped down towards the snow covered ground in front of us intend on picking off another meal. The rodent must have escaped as the bird came right at us and then lifted up into a tree only meters from us. They seem to have no fear of humans, even trying to stare us down.
Though not the largest, the Snowy Owl is the heaviest of our owls. Against a backdrop of snow covered fields they blend in perfectly when sitting on the ground, but when on top of an evergreen tree they do stick out. I often wonder why the weight of such a bird does not bend these seemingly flimsy branches. We were fortunate to find one in each type of setting. As with the hawk owl we witnessed the Snowy fly towards us and land on a barn. Based upon the heavy dark markings on the bird it was likely a young female. This was just another remarkable experience of a very memorable trip.