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threatened and/or endangered

Great Gray Owl Strix nebulosa


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Great Gray Owl
credit: Jok2000/CCSA

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Family: Strigidae, Owls view all from this family

Description ADULT Has mainly gray-brown plumage, upperparts with intricate darker markings; underparts are barred and streaked. Note the staring yellow eyes and yellow bill. JUVENILE Fluffy at first, but by fall acquires adultlike plumage.

Dimensions Length: 24-33" (61-84 cm); Wngspn: 5' (1.5 m)

Habitat Widespread, but nomadic, presence or absence dictated by availability of prey; territories widely spaced and so seldom common. Favors boreal forests across northern part of range, but montane conifer forests further south. Mainly sedentary, but shortage of prey and adverse weather sometimes causes irruptive movements south of usual range in winter.

Observation Tips Male's song is clue to species' presence. Fiercely protective of nest, so do not approach closely or you may be attacked and suffer injury.

Range California, Plains, Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Western Canada, Northwest, Rocky Mountains, New England, Eastern Canada, Alaska

Voice Territorial male's "song" comprises a series of deep hoo notes, whose pitch rises at first then falls throughout the series.

Discussion Spectacularly huge and beautifully patterned owl with a proportionately long tail, large head, and rounded facial disc marked with dark concentric rings around eyes. Fluffed up body feathers often accentuate bulky appearance. Feeds mainly on small rodents and typically scans for prey while perched overlooking forest clearing or grassland adjacent to trees. Able to detect movements of small mammals through layer of snow and will plunge through, usually feet-first, to capture prey. Mostly nocturnal in winter, but during breeding season, lengthy daylight hours oblige diurnal hunting too. Nests in large, abandoned twig nests or in natural cavities in tree stumps. Sexes are similar.