South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Northern Hawk Owl

Surnia ulula

Length: 14 inches Wingspan: 17 inches Seasonality: Rare visitor
ID Keys: Long tail, strong barring underneath, black rim around face, dark upperparts with heavy white spotting.

Northern Hawk Owl - Surnia ululaThe Northern Hawk Owl is somewhat hawk-like in both looks and behavior.  They have long tails compared to most owls, have a less "upright" posture when perched compared to most owls, and often hunt during both the day and night.  They are less likely to wander far to the south of their normal range than are other northern owls such as Snowy Owls and Great Grey Owls.  However, such irruptions do rarely occur, such as the winter of 2004 and 2005, when relatively large numbers of Northern Hawk Owls were found in northern Minnesota.

Habitat: Found in semi-open conifer and mixed conifer forests, such as forest edges and clearings, bogs, and burned areas.

Diet: Feeds mostly on rodents.  Will also eat birds, large insects, frogs, lizards, and fish.

Behavior: Hunts by observing from a high perch, and swooping down in fast flight to catch prey when spotted.  They are capable of hovering in flight, and may hover over suspected prey before attacking.  They are also capable of catching birds in mid-air. 

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: 2-syllable trilling

Migration: Generally a permanent resident throughout its range, but can be nomadic as they follow rodent populations.  A few may wander well to the south of their normal range in the winter.

Similar Species: Generally distinctive.  Shape alone distinguishes them from other owls.

Conservation Status: Because most of its habitat is well removed from human activity, numbers are generally stable.  The IUCN lists the Northern Hawk Owl as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Northern Hawk Owl

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Northern Hawk Owl"

3) -- Northern Hawk Owl

Photo Information: December 13th, 2004 -- Sax-Zim Bog northwest of Duluth, Minnesota -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Northern Hawk Owl photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Northern Hawk Owl - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Extremely rare winter visitor