Sunday, April 23, 2006

My Blog's Namesake

Beth and I didn’t go to our NJ Audubon volunteer potluck lunch* and field trip today due to our insanely bad allergies, so I figured I’d write an entry. After naming my blog “The Hawk Owl’s Nest”, I figured I would write an entry about… well, what else but the Northern Hawk Owl and its nest!

I remember seeing my first Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula) during the Minnesota invasion of winter 2004/2005. I was traveling with some friends that I’d met on a message board down a county road near Duluth. There it was… perched on top of a telephone pole scanning the landscape for prey. I screeched to a halt, jumped out of the car, and beckoned my companions to do the same. We watched it for a few moments and then it took off, accipiter-like through a small patch of woods. I would go on to see 20 or so of these awesome birds on my trip. Unfortunately for them, they were mostly starving due to the absence of food further north (the reason for their invasion in the first place).

The Hawk Owl is a rather unique species and the only member of its genus. It’s crow-sized owl and tends to behave and look more like a hawk than an owl. It has a long, pointed tail and hawk-like shape. Unlike most owls, it is diurnal, which means it hunts during the day. Basically non-migratory, they inhabit muskegs, wooded swamps and coniferous-deciduous boreal forests year round.

They eat mostly small mammals such as mice and voles, but will also eat birds. They hunt by swooping down on prey and then returning to a perch such as the top of a spruce or a pole. They fly low, swift and straight, alternating between flapping and gliding. Northern Hawk Owls also are known to hover during flight like Kestrels.

Hawk Owls begin nesting in April or May. They build their platform nests in enlarged Northern Flicker or Pileated Woodpecker holes, tops or hollows of tree stumps, and even occasionally in old nests of raptors, crows, or squirrels. They have even been known to use nest boxes. Wood chips are molded into the nest cavity to cushion the eggs.

The female lays 3 - 10 eggs and in good vole years can lay as many as 13. The eggs are incubated for 25 - 30 days. While the female incubates the eggs, the male feeds her. They are fearless and aggressive against nest intruders and will defend their nests vehemently. After the young hatch it takes another 25 - 30 days before they leave the nest. They remain near the nest for about 2 months but are not fully independent until they are about 3 months of age. The family group is maintained until the following spring.

Two cool facts I found during my research:
-Great Horned Owl and the Northern Goshawk prey on Northern Hawk Owls! Crazy!
-According to Holloway, the scientific name Surnia ulula comes from the Greek, surnion, meaning a bird of ill omen, and ulula, Latin for an owl.

Thanks to these sites for valuable info and some pics:

We made some excellent Mango Salsa for the potluck lunch!


LauraHinNJ said...

Just wanted to say "Hi" - saw a comment of yours on Julie Zickefoose's blog and thought, "hey, I know that guy" - I've seen your name on the Gardenweb birding forum and NJ Audubon stuff - I volunteer for them also, at SHBO.

Cool blog by the way!

Patrick Belardo said...

Hey Laura, thanks for the comments! You're my first official commenter. I volunteer at SHBO too. I don't know how our paths haven't crossed. I work the 2nd Sunday. Hope to run into you sometime soon and thanks for reading. And I love Julie Z's blog. She's great.