The Hawk Owl
 Morris's British Birds 1891
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Hawk Owl
Image Title: Hawk Owl
Description: Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)

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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, nearly black.
The young are less clearly coloured than the old birds.

"The very Owls at Athens are But seldom seen and rare."

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