Hawk owl is the queen of forests in the northern part of Eurasia, on the coasts of Kamchatka and the Sea of Okhotsk. She, being one of the most extraordinary wild birds, is considered by many peoples to be a symbol of wisdom and knowledge.
Numerous features distinguish this species from other owls. The hawk owl got its name for its resemblance to a hawk, which is expressed not only externally, but also in behavior and habits. The bird is medium in size, its weight does not exceed 380 g. The small head with a weakly expressed very light facial disc is slightly flattened, there are no feather "ears" on it. The eyes and beak are yellow. The wingspan is about 70–80 cm. Females are of the same size as males, sometimes even larger. Paws with black claws are covered with rather thick plumage.
The general color is dark brown with bright specks on the back, neck and shoulders. The lighter surface of the abdomen and chest has a pronounced transverse pattern. Upper tail slightly lighter than back. There is an opinion that the hawk owl becomes lighter with age. Photos and descriptions of these birds make it possible to see how the light and dark streaks, specks and stripes on the body disguise the owl as birch bark. Due to this color, it is also called a birch owl.
Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula) distributed in the forests of Eurasia and North America. In Russia, it is found on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, Kamchatka, as well as from the south of Altai to southern Transbaikalia and Primorye. In different parts of the range, it leads a sedentary or nomadic way of life.
The forests of North America, the taiga zone of Europe and Asia, the Central regions of Russia and Siberia are the places where this bird prefers to nest. The hawk owl is less common in the Tien Shan, Mongolia, Sakhalin and Primorye.
Taiga, forest-tundra are the most favorite habitats of owls. They settle in the riverside spruce forest, in the forests growing along the perimeter of large bogs, wherever there is a lot of coniferous trees. These birds often nest in drying out clearings, old burnt-out areas. Favorite habitat in the mountains are the valleys of rivers flowing from the mountains and the periphery of meadows.
Owl detection methods
A full-fledged account of hawk owls is a rather difficult task, since this requires tracing through swampy and difficult terrain. When passing through these sections, the phonograms of the calls of the female and the male are reproduced in order to more complete accounting.
During the search, the hollows and tops of broken trees are carefully examined. It is easiest to carry out this work during the period when barely fledged chicks fly out of the nest and are located nearby on tree branches and fallen trunks.
In winter, you can see the tracks left by an owl in the snow. They differ from the traces of other members of this family in a less pronounced X-shaped form. Due to the strong pubescence of the paws, the prints that the hawk owl leaves in the snow are indistinct. When landing, in addition, a trace from the tail remains.
These owls feed mainly on small rodents. Sometimes birds also become their prey. First of all, the hawk owl catches mouse-like rodents (lemming, red vole). Studies carried out by the staff of the Kandalaksha Nature Reserve have shown that during the snowless period, the food of the chicks is 98 percent of these animals. Most of them are voles. Even the remains of frogs were found in pellets left by birds. In the forests of Finland and Norway, similar studies have also shown that the main part of the diet of hawk owls is rodents, and the share of birds is expressed just over one percent.
And only in the winter season, the hawk owl hunts mainly birds. First of all, these are ptarmigan, hazel grouse and small representatives of passerines.
Not only the appearance, but also the behavior of this owl is very much like a hawk. She hunts mainly in the daytime, less often at dusk. Like many other birds of prey living in the forests, the owl picks up speed, making frequent flaps of its wings, and then motionlessly spreads them, moving forward.
The description of how the predator looks out for its prey is very similar to the hawk's habits. When hunting in the open landscape, the owl hangs in the air in the same way, peering down. She often uses lonely dead trees as an observation point. After looking around the neighborhood for half an hour, he flies to another tree.
The hawk owl's mating period begins in March. In April, she arranges a place for laying eggs or uses old foreign nests for this. Usually, an owl occupies natural hollows, located, as a rule, in spruce or pine trees, and at a very high altitude - an average of 14-15 meters. Often nests on the tops of bumblebees, settling in decayed cavities. The birds observe the distance between nests from one to seven kilometers, depending on the density of the grouping.
In April – May, the female lays eggs. On average, there are 4–5 eggs in a clutch. In a season rich in mouse rodents, their number can reach up to a dozen. The size of the eggs is approximately 35 to 40 mm. A hawk owl on the nest behaves quite aggressively. As soon as it senses the appearance of someone nearby, it begins to scream loudly, flying from place to place, and in case of danger, the female and the male actively defend the nest, striking the enemy's head with their beak.
Incubation lasts about a month, and babies are born in June. Their first outfit is a white down, which gradually fades into a gray, rippled plumage. On the dark facial disc, white eyebrows and elongated, rounded spots under the eyes of the same color stand out. The black spots located around the eyes merge above the beak.
When young owls are one month old, they can already fly distances of 20 to 30 meters on their own. But for a long time, parents continue to take care of their chicks, fearlessly attacking anyone who dares to approach them. At the same time, with their restless cry, which means a danger signal, they make the youngsters freeze in a posture. For parents, such a cry gives courage. Young owls begin their independent life around September.
The mortality rate of chicks is very high. Even with large clutches, the brood usually numbers no more than three birds. In many areas, the hawk owl is already on the verge of extinction. The Red Book of the Middle Urals, Moscow Region and some other regions includes this species of owls along with other animals in need of protection.
Behavior and features
The hawk owl also resembles a daytime bird of prey in its habits. She often hunts during the day. Resting, especially in the morning and evening hours, he often sits on the top of a freestanding tree, bush, on a pole towering over a stack, a telegraph pole, and sits there for a long time, facing the sun. At the same time, unlike most owls, which, while resting, sit in the trees "in a column", the hawk owl usually leans forward a little, like a falcon or a hawk. The flight of a hawk owl is also peculiar: it is fast and straightforward, and moving in open areas, the owl often flaps its wings, then moves forward, motionlessly spreading them, as many birds of prey, especially those living in forests, do.
The nest of a hawk owl is usually located on old stumps, in half-hollows, less often in hollows or old nests of crows or other birds of prey, sometimes on the ground. In her clutch there are 3-9, occasionally up to 13 white eggs. The female incubates them for about 25 days. About the same number of chicks sit in the nest, after which they move to the branches of neighboring trees. Both parents feed them. They actively protect the nest, boldly attacking the person, trying to hit the head with their claws.
Hawk owls feed most often on voles, lemmings and mice. With their lack, they can catch squirrels, small birds, sometimes they successfully attack hazel grouses, ptarmigan and even black grouse.