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Are All Owls Nocturnal?

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Just as humans remain alert during the night, keeping an ear out for burglars or smoke alarms, famously nocturnal owls, too, remain semi-attentive during their daily slumbers. Still, just two owl species are truly diurnal (meaning active during the day): the northern hawk owl and the northern pygmy owl. That said, they aren't the only owls you can spot when the sun is up.

Northern Hawk Owls

The northern hawk owl can be found in the northernmost regions of North America and Asia. They are skilled raptors (birds of prey) that use hunting techniques similar to hawks and falcons. They hunt when the sun is up, usually searching for prey from high perches that overlook open spaces. In the winter, they can find and catch animals that are hidden beneath snow. Other hunting techniques including catching prey in mid-flight, and even pursuing their prey along the ground.

Northern Pygmy Owls

Northern pygmy owls, which are common on North America's West Coast, are often seen during the day, especially when the sky is overcast. They are easily spotted in the open, often at the very tops of trees, bobbing their heads and flicking their tails up and down. Still, northern pygmy owls are diligent, tenacious hunters, and are fast enough, like the northern hawk owl, to chase their prey mid-flight.

Owls of Dusk and Dawn

While owls other than the northern hawk and the northern pygmy are nocturnal by nature, some species are crepuscular, meaning they are still active or become active at dawn or dusk, respectively. These species include snowy owls, short-eared owls, burrowing owls, great grey owls, and barred and great horned owls, to a lesser degree.

Avoiding Absolutes

To say that a nocturnal owl sleeps through the day isn't as correct as to say it is "inactive" or resting. When activity approaches a nocturnal owl while the sun is shining, the bird's eyes will open, its head will turn, and if it believes there is a threat nearby, it will fly away, finding some new place in which to bed down until nightfall.