Living Bird Magazine
Great Gray OwlStrix nebulosa
- ORDER: Strigiformes
- FAMILY: Strigidae
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 the 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
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.
- Cárabo Lapón (Spanish)
- Chouette lapone (French)
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
- Although the Great Gray Owl is one of the tallest owls in the U.S., it’s just a ball of feathers. Both the Great Horned Owl and Snowy Owl weigh more than a Great Gray Owl and they have larger feet and talons.
- Great Gray Owls aren’t just North American owls. They also live in Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, and Mongolia.
- Great Gray Owls are powerful birds. Despite weighing only 2.5 pounds, they can break through hard packed snow to grab a small mammal. One bird reportedly broke through snow that was hard enough to support a 176-pound human.
- Great Gray Owls are big owls, which means that they need to eat regularly. In the winter, they eat up to 7 vole-sized small mammals every day.
- Both the common and scientific names are apt for this large gray owl. The Latin name for Great Gray Owl is Strix nebulosa. Strix means to utter shrill sounds and nebulosa means misty or cloudy, referring to its gray color.
- Imagine what it would be like if you could hear even the slightest noise and knew exactly where the noise was coming from. Well, that is exactly what Great Gray Owls can do. Like the Barn Owl and Long-eared Owl they have asymmetrical ear openings that help them find prey by sound alone. The left ear opening is higher on the head than the right ear opening which enables precise directional hearing and lets them nab invisible prey.
- The oldest recorded Great Gray Owl was at least 18 years, 9 months old and lived in Alberta, where it was banded in 1996 and found in 2013, after being hit by a car.