CANADA OWL. Strix funerea, TEMMINCK. Surnia funerea, GOULD.
Noctua funerea, JENYNS. Strix—Some species of Owl. Funerea—Funereal.
The soft plumage of Owls, and the formation of the feathers
of their wings, are intended, in the opinion of some writers, to enable
them to steal noiselessly on their prey. This however, is, I think,
at best but a fanciful speculation; so far, at least, I mean, as regards
any peculiar advantage being afforded to the Owl, 'par excellence,'
on this account. No birds of prey make such a noise with their wings
as by it to give their prey timely notice of their approach. —The
Owl therefore is not especially privileged in the contrary respect.
Q. E. D.
The Hawk Owl is a connecting link between the Owls and the Hawks,
possessing many points of similarity to each, the long tail and small
head of the latter, as well as the habit of flying by day, and resembling
the former in the ruff and the feet; one might almost think it a hybrid
between the two.
This bird is an inhabitant of Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Denmark,
Norway, Sweden, Lapland, Russia, and other parts of the north of Europe,
even to the Amoor and Kamstchatka; in some years it appears far more
abundantly than in others. It is plentiful in all the high latitudes
of North America, from Hudson's Bay to the Pacific, but is rare in
the United States, most plentiful in Canada. A single specimen of
this Owl was long 'left alone in its glory' as a British species.
One was taken at sea in an exhausted state off the Cornish coast,
in March, 1830.
It lived afterwards for a few weeks in the care of Dr. Birkett, of
Waterford, to whom it was given, the vessel having been bound to that
port. A second, however, has been now recorded by E. T. Higgins, Esq.,
in the ' Zoologist,' as having been shot whilst hawking for prey on
Backwell Hill, near the Yatton (Clevedon) Station, of the Bristol
and Exeter Railway, at about two o'clock, on the 25th. or 26th. of
August, in the year 1847, the sun shining brightly at the time. In
Scotland, one was shot at Maryhill, near Glasgow, in December, 1863,
and another near Greenock, in November, 1868.
This species flies by day, but seeks its food mostly in the morning
and evening. It frequents small woods, and is a bold and daring bird,
frequently carrying off game from the fowler, whom it attends for
the purpose: it is easily tamed. Wilson remarks in writing of this
Owl, that it wants the filaments on the outsides of the quill feathers
which the Owls that fly by night possess, to enable them, as he imagines,
to steal more noiselessly on their prey; but surely such an advantage
would be far more useful by day than by night. There is indeed an
all-wise reason for every thing in nature; but I believe we are in
the dark as to by far the most. We are apt to argue that such or such
is the reason of this or that fact, or the use of this or that possession,
when the presence or the absence of the like in some kindred or dissimilar
species at once overturns our shallow hypothesis.
The flight of the Hawk Owl is rather slow: at times it mounts to a
considerable height, even in bright sunshine, and is also said to
move in circuitous rounds from tree to tree, and to roost sometimes
on the ground in marshy situations, as do the Harriers.
Its food consists of rats and mice, Partridges, Grouse, and other
birds, and insects. In winter it makes great havoc among the flocks
of Ptarmigan, and has been known to pounce on birds which have been
shot by hunters.
The note of this bird is said to resemble that of the Kestrel, but
to be soft and pleasant, and the call often repeated in quick succession.
The superstitions of all nations in all ages have associated the doleful
note of the Owl with the idea of calamity and death, yet all the while
it is for the most part nothing but a love-note that is uttered, or
a voice of alarm, as when, as described in Gray's beautiful poem,
the ' Elegy written in a country Churchyard.'
The nest is built in a hole of a tree, and is composed of sticks,
grass, and feathers. It is boldly defended by both its owners.
The eggs are white, and like those of the Owls generally, of the dual
number, though it is said sometimes as many as from five to eight,
but possibly these may have been of different layings, I am inclined
to think, as in the case of the White Owl.
Male; weight, about twelve ounces; length, about one foot three inches;
bill, pale orange yellow, and almost hid by the feathers : Mr. Higgins
describes his specimen as having the upper part white, and the lower
horn-colour. Bristles intermixed with yellowish white feathers cover
the parts about its base. Iris, bright orange according to some accounts,
but yellow according to others. Head, small, dusky, and white on the
sides, the feathers being spotted and the face narrow, a black-edged
band passes down to the wing; the ruff indistinct, a purple black
crescent only appearing about the ears; crown, dusky black, thickly
dotted with white, each feather having three white spots. Neck, olive
brown, marked on the sides with a curved streak of brownish black,
and another behind it of a triangular form; nape, olive or blackish
brown, a good deal marked with white; chin, dusky white, with a large
spot of brownish olive; throat, dusky white in front and on the sides,
the shafts of the feathers being black. Breast, dusky white above,
with a blot of dark brown on each side, united by an irregularly-formed
band; below, dull white, elegantly barred with dark brown lines. Back,
brownish olive, speckled with broad spots of white, barred with the
same on the lower part.
Greater and lesser wing coverts, olive brown, marked with black; primaries,
dark brown, barred with four or five yellowish white spots on the
outer web near the tip, the first feather slightly serrated. Secondaries,
the same, with two or three spots forming irregular lines, and some
of them have white spots on the inner webs also; tertiaries, long,
loose, and downy in texture, brown, and spotted on the outer webs,
forming, when the wing is closed, a broad and long band of white with
a few irregular bars of brown; the first feather is the shortest,
the third the longest, the fourth a little shorter, the second a little
less than the fourth. Greater and lesser under wing coverts, white
with brown bars, some of them regular, but others alternating on the
outer and inner webs. The tail is long, and extends about three inches
beyond the end of the wings. It consists of twelve feathers, and is
wedge-shaped, rounded at the end, and of a brownish olive colour,
with six or seven or more narrow bars of white, the three upper ones
concealed by the tail coverts; they are much more distinct on the
inner than on the outer webs—in the latter assuming rather the
character of spots than of bars, and the tips white, the bars shew
clearly through, bending in the middle towards the end, underneath
the tail is barred alternately with greyish brown and dull white;
tail coverts, as the back, and with a broad terminal white spot; under
tail coverts, with broad white bands, and narrow brown ones. Legs
and toes, completely covered with yellowish-grey white plumage, barred
with narrow lines of olive brown; claws, horn-colour, paler at the
base, long, and finely arched: that on the middle toe is sharp-edged
on the inner side.
Female; length, from sixteen to seventeen inches and a half. The breast
is blotted on the upper part; on the back her plumage is darker coloured
than that of the male. The wings expand to two feet seven or eight
inches—they reach to half the length of the tail; primaries,
The young are less clearly coloured than the old birds.
"The very Owls at Athens are But seldom seen and rare."