top of page

NOTICE: This feature is a work-in-progress. If you encounter any issues, please e-mail us at

Northern Hawk Owl

Surnia ulula


36 - 45cm

76 - 91cm

300 - 340g

10 - 16 yrs





The northern hawk owl is the only living species in the genus Surnia, the name being coined by its creator, André Duméril. It is sometimes known simply as the hawk owl, although many species of owls in the genus Ninox are also called "hawk owls". It is one of the few owls that is neither nocturnal nor crepuscular, being active only during the day (diurnal).

Least Concern




The plumage is dark brown with an off-white spotted pattern except a black v-shape on the back of the neck. The underbelly is off-white with brown bands on the breast. It also boasts a long tail with brown banding and a smoky white face with yellow eyes and a yellow curved beak. It has been said to resemble a hawk in appearance and in behaviour.

What Does it Look Like?


What Does it Sound Like?


When attracting a mate, the male usually lets out a rolled whistle of ulululululululul and a sound similar to tu-wita-wit, tiwita-tu-wita, wita, when perching at a potential nest site. The female’s call is usually less constant and more shrill. A sound similar to rike, rike, rike, rike is used as an alarm call, and a high pitched yip identifies an intruder.


It feeds primarily on voles and other small mammals such as rats or lemmings. The red squirrel has also been documented as an important prey species, as are small birds such as sparrows, jays, and starlings. It scours for prey from a perch, usually a spruce tree, and attacks with a gliding dive. It will plunge deep into snow when necessary.

What Does it Eat?


Where Does it Nest?


It nests in the hollow stumps of dead spruce trees, laying 3-11 eggs per brood. The female incubates the eggs until they hatch, after which she hunts for food whilst the male guards the nest, chasing away predators when required. The chicks leave the nest after three weeks, but will be tended to by the female for a short time afterwards.


Three subspecies exist. One can be found in Alaska through to Canada, with the others in parts of Asia. However, they have been known to venture into Russia and Scandinavia on occasion. They live in coniferous forests with or without deciduous species such as larch, birch, poplar, and willow. They are found in muskegs, clearings and meadows.

Where Does it Live?


What is its Status?


It is one of the most poorly understood birds due to its low density occurrence; in Yukon, densities were estimated to be between zero and six pairs per 100km squared. Despite this, the population is thought to be fairly large given that they occur throughout the boreal forest, and as long as nothing threatens their northern habitats, no known factors pose a risk.

Image credit:

Disclaimer: Whilst we have worked to ensure the content on this page is accurate, any information included herein has been provided for entertainment purposes only and should not be used as a factual reference, including for conservational, biological, veterinary or other scientific uses, as it may not reflect the most up to date research or includes information that is unverified (or, where data is insufficient, has been based on assumptions of wild behaviors.) Species information has been compiled from a range of sources and the knowledge of the BOWC team. The use of content on this page without prior written permission from BOWC is strictly prohibited. Any photographs not owned by BOWC have been sourced under license with full credit given below the images used. Conservation status shown is as reported by the IUCN Red List. If you believe any of the information on this page is demonstrably inaccurate or has been used without proper accreditation, please e-mail

bottom of page