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Northern Hawk-Owl Facts

Common Name(s): Hawk Owl

Scientific Name: Surnia ulula

Approximate Size: Males: 14.2 – 16.7 inches, 36 – 42.5 centimeters. 11 ounces, Females: 14.6 – 17.6 inches, 37.2 – 44.7 centimeters. 12 ounces

Approximate Life Span: 13 years in the wild, 38 years in captivity

Natural Habitat: Very variable and uneven distribution throughout the boreal forest. They live mostly in coniferous forests. They can generally be found in muskegs, swamp valleys, meadows, clearings, and recently burnt areas. They avoid dense forests.


Both male and female northern hawk-owls have similar wingspans at about 18 inches. The feathers of hawk-owls are a dark brown with an off white spotting pattern along the upper parts of the body. However, the back of the neck is decorated with a black v-shaped pattern. Northern hawk-owls have a long tail with brown stripes and a smoky colored white face with a black outline, yellow eyes, a curved yellow beak, and a flat head. The undercarriage of northern hawk-owls is an off-white color.

Food & Hunting

Northern hawk-owls have an extensive appetite and can oftentimes be found consuming small rodents, robustly sized mammals, birds, and more. This is typical for boreal owls, as they are birds of prey. In Eurasia, northern hawk-owls feast on voles. Other animals that are a common part of a northern hawk-owl’s diet include the red squirrel, mice, rats, lemmings, partridges, grouse, doves, finches and more. While in captivity, northern hawk-owls can be fed frozen mice, frozen rats, and other frozen feeder rodents.

Northern hawk-owls typically hunt during the day, but have been observed hunting at night as well. They don’t appear to have a preference. In either North America or Eurasia, northern hawk-owls are search oriented birds of prey. They will perch (preferably in a spruce trees) and watch open forest environments and scour for prey. If they do not find prey, they will not stay in the area for very long. When prey is spotted, the hawk-owl will do a gliding dive to capture the prey. If rodents or other prey are hiding below snow, a hawk-owl can still capture them due to their exceptional hearing. The hawk-owl’s eating strategy depends on the type of prey. For smaller prey, they will swallow the body whole. For mammalian prey, they will eviscerate the prey and eat its head first. For larger prey, they will eat the organs first.

Learn more about what birds of prey eat here.

Conservation Status

Population levels are not currently known for the northern-hawk owl. They are one of the most poorly understood and least studied birds in North America. Low density occurrence, sporadic fluctuations, and remote breeding locations make the northern hawk-owl difficult to study.

However, North American populations of northern hawk-owls do appear to be declining, though no official documentation can prove this.

Cool Facts about the Northern Hawk-Owl

· Due to their exceptional hearing, northern hawk-owls can find and seize prey under up to 1 foot of snow.

· The northern hawk-owl can detect prey by sight up to a half of a mile away.

Learn more about birds of prey here!


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