This tall gray owl, patterned with brown and white mottling, streaks, and barring, sports a large facial disk and yellow eyes. As with all owls, its eyes are immobile, aimed instead by extremely flexible head movements. It lacks ear tufts, and its chin and the space between its eyes (lores) bear prominent white patches. Though taller and appearing larger than the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) due to its fluffy plumage, it actually weighs less. Its slow, easy flight is described as heron-like.
Habitat and Distribution
Most great gray owls nest in the dense northern boreal forests across North America and Eurasia. The southernmost edge of their range, however, dips down through the Cascades and Klamath Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, into the Sierra Nevada of California and includes the northern Rocky Mountains. Scarce winter food sometimes drives them even further south. They need mature forest habitat with openings that sustain their primary prey: small rodents. In the Pacific Northwest, pine, oak/madrone, Douglas-fir and other forest types bordering bogs, fields, or meadows are suitable.
Diet and Foraging
Great gray owls primarily hunt at night or at dawn and dusk, though they are capable daytime foragers. Voles (Microtus spp.) comprise almost 90% of their diet. Low vole populations, in fact, can significantly lower owl reproduction and trigger mass owl movements south (irruptions) in search of food for the winter. Equipped with powerful hearing, thanks to offset ear openings and a large facial disk, the owls hunt from low perches on the edge of openings. Like most owls, special structures on their feathers—a comb-like filter on the front of flight feathers and a velvety layer across the surface—make their flight almost soundless. They can hear small rodents deep under the snow. (Continue reading)
For Students: Great Gray Owl | Notebooking Report Pages
This Great Gray Owl resource includes ten pages perfect for any student creating a report or project on this bird! There are nine pages that can be used to record findings such as its scientific classification, range, habitat, diet and much more. The last page includes a full black and white illustration so that students can create a colorful picture of this magnificent owl.
Related resources you might like…
- North American Birds of Prey Research / Report Pages
- Birds if Prey Flashcards
- Audubon’s Birds – Coloring Book (80 species)
- Alaska Willow Ptarmigan Notebooking Set
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