Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Northern Hawk-Owl, Surnia ulula, photographed in the Meadows Campground near Hart’s Pass of the Okanogan National Forest, located above the Methow Valley of Eastern Washington [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]

Image: Lee Rentz, 19 October 2008 [larger view].

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:

Even with owls it pays to start at the rear of the bird. Many owls are stocky and stumpy, their wings and their tails about the same length; some, though, like this quiz bird, have decidedly long tails. To judge by the dead twigs it is perched on, this is neither a pygmy-owl nor a Great Gray Owl, but rather a medium-sized bird. Its perch against the sky, its long tail, and its overall gray tone identify it quickly as a Northern Hawk Owl, a species birders all along the US-Canadian border — and even farther south — are busy looking for right now.

This bird is called “Northern” to distinguish it from the Ninox “hawk owls” of Australasia, one species of which, the Brown Hawk Owl, has now occurred twice in the ABA area, once on Kiska and once on St. Paul.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 RM
    October 28, 2008

    I am going to say Northern Hawk Owl due to the longer tail, white ear marking, and white-spotted scapulars.

  2. #2 John Callender
    October 28, 2008

    Northern Hawk Owl, based on the dark vertical bars framing the white face, the horizontal barring on the underparts, and the long tail (though actually, this tail looks somewhat shorter than the illustration in the field guide).

  3. #3 Bill
    October 28, 2008

    This is THE Northern Hawk Owl that everyone on Tweeters is all atwitter about. It’s a very good bird and a very good photo.

  4. #4 Robert V Sobczak
    October 28, 2008

    The tree is a dead give away … if only I knew the tree.

  5. #5 Selasphorus
    October 28, 2008

    Northern Hawk Owl. The black lines on the face are distinctive. Also, the perching on treetop is a rather disctinctive behavior.

  6. #6 Jerry Broadus
    October 28, 2008

    Northern hawk owl perched on top of a black spruce looking for rodent critters. One good place to look for these is near the sled dog kennels at Denali National Park. There are lots of spruces to hunt from and lots of furry critters that show up to steal the dog food from the kennels.

  7. #7 Bump
    October 28, 2008

    That’s a hoot owl.

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