The Great Gray Owl of the Pacific Northwest
This is our largest owl, the Great Gray Owl is a dark grey color with bars and flecks of light grey and white, They have a dense, fluffy plumage that, when perched, makes them look quite bulky, they have long wings that extend past the body, a fairly long tail and a very large head. The size of the head and the prominent facial disk make the yellow eyes appear small. The feet are always hidden from view when perch, covered by feathers.
Although the Great Gray Owl appears to be quite large, they are mostly feathers, they usually weigh in at around 1 to 1.5 kilos or about half the weight of its smaller cousin, the Snowy Owl.
These owls fly with slow, silent wing beats. They fly close to the ground, usually less than 5 meters high. They can be very aggressive near their nest and you should always be careful. The great gray owl likes to nest in thick cover.
They have a distinctive call which is a very soft “whooo oooo oooo oooo” with the notes spaced over a 7 or 8 second period. they call over and over as a territorial declaration and they can be heard up to half a km away. Territorial calling begins just after dark and can continue for hours.
When threatened, they will snap their beak loudly, spread its wings and growl, if you do not back off, it might even attack you, this is quite a display and you really should back off so as not to disturb them or get hurt.
Although a very large owl, small rodents are their primary prey with rats, mice, shrews, squirrels and weasels being on the menu. Birds are rarely preyed upon but they will eat crows, robins, and sometimes, squirrels are eaten.
In the far north, the great gray likes to nest in coniferous forests along the edge of the arctic tree line. Nesting habitat usually includes copses or islands of aspens within pure stands of conifers. Most hunting is done in the open areas such as swamps, bogs, and forest clearings as long as there are scattered trees that can be used as perches.
I have had the pleasure of watching the great gray owl on three occasions, twice in the Campbell river area and once along the Nasko River up in the chilcotin area. A very impressive bird to observe.
The great gray in the photo on this page is of an immature bird that was taken in Oct, 2014 on Quadra Island by my friend Deb Ross Hult, a real thrill to hear of this bird visiting our area and to see a friend get such a great photo, thanks for letting us use it on our site Deb.