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Great Gray Owl

Silhouette OwlsOwls
Great Gray OwlStrix nebulosa
  • ORDER: Strigiformes
  • FAMILY: Strigidae

Basic Description

The Great Gray Owl is a dapper owl dressed in a gray suit with a bow tie across its neck and a surprised look on its face. In the stillness of a cold mountain meadow, this elusive giant quietly floats on broad wings across meadows and openings in evergreen forests. They are mostly owls of the boreal forest with small populations in western mountains, but in some years they move farther south in search of food, giving some a unique opportunity to see this majestic owl.

More ID Info
image of range map for Great Gray Owl
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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Find This Bird

The Great Gray Owl is an elusive bird that is not easy to find, despite its size. Your best chance of seeing one is during an irruptive year when it comes south in search of food. Join your local birding group email listserv and watch rare bird alters to know when one has been sighted near you. You can also use the eBird species maps tool to find areas where other birders reported them in the past to try your luck at finding one. In these areas slowly walk the perimeter of a meadow or other opening looking for dark figures in trees. Pay particular attention to dead trees and don’t forget to look at all levels in the trees as they can sometimes perch fairly low. To catch them hunting, make sure to get out in the right habitat before dawn or dusk. Because Great Gray Owls are highly sought-after by birders and photographers who want to see the birds, and are sensitive to disturbance, don’t use call playbacks to find them. Using mice to bait or lure in owls (of any species) should be avoided all together.

Other Names

  • Cárabo Lapón (Spanish)
  • Chouette lapone (French)

Backyard Tips

If you are lucky enough to live within the range of the Great Gray Owl, you can build a nest structure to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. You'll find plans for building a nest structure of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

  • Cool Facts