Few things can spell out “winter birding” as poetically as the sighting of a rare northern owl that has more or less unexpectedly found its way to southern, more balmy environs. That, at least, is the case for most birders in North America,  unless they reside in Florida and have no clue as to what a winter is anyway. A “winter owl” however has little meaning to German birders for two simple reasons (and male smew aren’t one of them). First, most of Europe’s owl species are breeding in Germany anyway and are better found at other times of the year. Second, the few that don’t – Northern Hawk Owls, Snowy Owls and Great Grey Owls – are so exceptionally rare even in severe winters that using them to define winter birding would impact our climate statistics even worse than global warming. I am not aware of a single twitchable Snowy Owl in Germany in the 21st century, and Great Grey Owl isn’t even on the German list. Northern Hawk Owls however are a slightly different matter – as the post’s title plainly suggests – as they have shown up increasingly often in recent years. Well, very recent years. I can’t recall any observations in the 1980s and 1990s, although that might be an effect of there having been no Internet back in the days. The first bird in Germany during my lifetime – that I know of – was in 2006, a long-staying and well-twitched bird in Brandenburg. The next one to show up chose the state of Hessen as its wintering residence in 2011 – not bad after only 5 years. Then however, the winter of 2013/14 brought a major eruption and rained down at least 15 Northern Hawk Owls upon us. Coupled with an unprecedented influx of Arctic (Hoary) Redpolls, Parrot and White-winged Crossbills, the owls turned the winter of 2013/14 into a belated Octoberfest for all German birders, and I was thankfully able to join the party and twitch one of the Hawk Owls in the Harz mountains in March 2014. The following winters didn’t quite live up to the new standard, but there has been at least one Hawk Owl in Germany both in ’14/’15 and now in ’15/’16, slowly turning this once exceptional vagrant into a very rare but regular winter guest. Here’s hoping that it stays that way, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that one of these fine winter days a Great Grey joins its hawkish cousins down here. But for now, I’ll just leave you with a handful (a plentiful handful, to be honest) of my Hawk Owl pictures, taken in Germany nearly two years ago…


hawk owl 1


hawk owl 2


hawk owl 3


hawk owl 4


hawk owl 5


hawk owl 6


hawk owl 7


hawk owl 8


hawk owl 9



Written by Jochen
Jochen Roeder was born in Germany and raised to be a birder. He also spent a number of years abroad, just so he could see more birds. One of his most astounding achievements is the comprehension that Yellow-crowned Night-herons do not exist, as he failed to see any despite birding in North America for more than two years. He currently lives near Heidelberg, one of the most boring places for a birder to live, a fact about which he likes to whinge a lot. When he is not birding or trying to convince his teenage son that patiently scanning some fields for migrants is more fun than staring at a smartphone, he enjoys contemplating the reasoning behind the common names of birds. He first became famous in the bird blog world on Bell Tower Birding.