Great Grey Owl

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Great Grey Owl

The Great Grey Owl is large grey to greyish brown owl with dense, fluffy plumage, long wings and tail, and a large head with a prominent facial disc making Great Grey Owl pictures a favorite among wildlife photographers.  The name “nebulosa” is derived from the Latin “Nebulosus“, meaning misty or foggy. The Great Grey Owl has also been called Great Grey Ghost, Phantom of the north, Cinerous Owl, Spectral Owl, Lapland Owl, Spruce Owl, Bearded Owl and Sooty Owl. This Owl is the provincial bird emblem of Manitoba, Canada.

The facial disc is circular, grey, and has many dark concentric rings. Short eyebrows and whitish lores form a white “X” in the centre of the face. Eyes are relatively small, bright yellow, and surrounded by blackish eyelids. The cere is greyish-yellow and the bill yellowish-horn. There is a blackish vertical patch below the bill that is flanked whitish, somewhat resembling a beard. Upper parts are dark grey with a brownish tint, densely vermiculated and mottled darker, with indistinct dusky streaks. Flight feathers are barred darker and paler grey to greyish-brown. The tail is relatively long, barred and mottled grey and dusky. Underparts are a paler grey with dark vermiculations, mottling and diffuse longitudinal dark streaks. The belly is barred dusky. Tarsi and toes are densely feathered grey, with dusky mottling. Claws are dark brown with blackish tips. Great Gray Owls are considered the largest owl we have in North America, but it is not the heaviest. For the most part they are mostly feathers. These are used to keep the owl warm in their northern territory.

They have a body length of 24-33 inches, wingspan of 53-60 inches and a body weight of 24-60 ounces.  Their wing span is very impressive as you will see when you view our Great Grey Owl pictures presented in the gallery above.

Great Grey Owls inhabit a range of forested habitats. In far North America, they frequent stunted coniferous forests along the edge of the Arctic tree line, through spruce and tamarack muskeg forests further south. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains they breed in mixed conifer and red fir forests. Nesting habitat usually includes copses or islands of aspens within pure stands of conifers. Most foraging is done in open areas such as swamps, bogs, and forest clearings where there are scattered trees and shrubs that can be used as perches.

Great Grey Owls are primarily dawn and dusk hunters but will also hunt during the daytime and at night. Their vision and hearing are exceptional and they have the largest facial disc of any owl. This facial disc combined with their offset ears creating 3D hearing which allows them to hear their prey even under two feet of snow. Once they locate their prey they plunge into the snow and use their feet or beak to capture their next meal. Quite often you will see one of these large owls sitting on a fence or post in the country. Their head is constantly turning to scan for buried prey. If they see or hear a prey that is quite a distance away they will glide silently a foot or so above the ground before landing on their prey or in the winter before plunging into the snow.  It’s these Great Grey Owl Images that are a real treat to capture.

Courtship begins about mid-winter and the male will select several nesting sites. They don’t make their own nests but will use old nest from other large birds like hawks, crows, ravens or old hollow tree tops. The nest made by the Northern Goshawk serves very well. They also readily use artificially provided platforms. The female will decide which one she likes and they lay two to three eggs a couple of days apart. Only the female incubates the eggs and they hatch in 28-29 days. The male brings all the food for the female and the young. The young will stay in the nest for about  three to four weeks and fledge after about eight weeks.  To date we have not had the pleasure of capturing Great Grey Owl pictures with chicks or fledglings so that remains on our bucket list.

Males and females aggressively defend nests and have been known to drive off predators as large as black bears. Among other threats are ravens and Great Horned Owls both whom prey on eggs and nestlings.

We hope you enjoy our gallery of Great Grey Owl images and will share with us your experiences and observations with this wonderful bird of prey.