Northern Hawk Owl

Every once in awhile the local birding community goes crazy about a special visitor to the area. Recently reports have been coming in daily about a trio of Northern Hawk Owls living north of Cochrane. I was was lucky enough to see two of the three birds today.

Although not endangered, these birds are considered to be rare in the Calgary area. For there to be three of them located in such close proximity is very exciting. Reports of these birds have been popping up on Alberta Bird since before Christmas and I was eager to see if I could find them. Fortunately these particular owls have been staying in the same spot for a long time, and they don’t seem to care that they are being watched by a lot of people. One of them actually flew onto a tree only a few feet away from me several times.

Northern Hawk Owl perching in a tree

This particular bird has a regular behavioral pattern in which it perches in a high tree (or power pole) while preening; every so often it will fly down to a lower tree overlooking the adjacent farm field, and then patiently search the field for a meal. When it finds something it swoops down low over the grass and strikes from behind. Sometimes it eats the meal right there on the ground, while other times it flies off with it to enjoy it from a higher vantage point.

Northern Hawk Owl in Flight

The nearby fields appear to be abundantly stocked with prey and these birds make many such trips throughout the day. I stayed to watch one of the birds for quite a long time and it was very exciting to be able to observe it so closely. I managed to make a few good sequences of images of it hunting, and I’ve put together a slideshow of one of these sequences…

When this sort of excitement crops up there is always the inevitable talk about the ethics of human interaction with wildlife. In this particular instance there have been huge numbers of people traveling down the same road eager to see and photograph such beautiful birds. Some people would say that this is very stressful to the bird and that it can really disrupt their lifestyle. I’ve already mentioned that these birds don’t seem to care very much about the people that are visiting them, and my personal belief is that birds and animals are generally very good at letting humans know when they are being bothered. In fact they usually do so very quickly

As an aside, I have to say I don’t support feeding wild birds or animals just to get a better picture. There have been some reports that people have been baiting these birds (with pet store mice for example) to do just that. I certainly didn’t see it happening while I was watching the owls, and I would even go so far as to say that it would be completely unnecessary in this case. The adjacent field appears to be teeming with mice and these birds have been on a very steady diet of fresh food. Having said that, it happens all the time, and not just by photographers. But that’s a topic for another post

Published by


Sean lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and is surrounded by majestic views of the Rocky Mountains and constantly changing prairie landscapes. While focusing on the beauty of the prairies, including the sweeping horizons, the vegetation, and the birds and animals, the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains are also a favorite place to wander and photograph.

3 thoughts on “Northern Hawk Owl”

    1. Thanks. Patience was definitely required. I’m actually planning to take my lens in to Canon because the focus is not consistent. I’m getting lots of throw-aways even when it had focus locked right where I wanted it… It’s still fun though!

Comments are closed.