#439 Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)

18 May

A rare visitor to the Montreal area – the last “big irruption” being in winter of 2005 when a large number were observed on the island. Worth waiting for. The world’s largest species of owl by length. It is distributed across the Northern Hemisphere, and it is the only species in the genus Strix found in both Eastern and Western Hemispheres. In northern areas their breeding habitat is often the dense coniferous forests of the taiga, near open areas, such as meadows or bogs. In Oregon and California this owl has been found nesting in mixed oak woodlands. Once believed to require a cold climate, it is now known that this bird survives in a few areas where summer temperatures exceed 100 °F (38 °C).

These birds wait, listen, and watch for prey, then swoop down; they also may fly low through open areas in search of prey. They frequently hunt from a low listening post which can be a stump, low tree limb, fence post, or road sign. Their large facial disks, also known as “ruffs”, focus sound, and the asymmetrical placement of their ears assists them in locating prey, because of the lack of light during the late and early hours in which they hunt. On the nesting grounds, they mainly hunt at night and near dawn and dusk; at other times, they are active mostly during the night.

They have excellent hearing, and may locate (and then capture) prey moving beneath 60 cm (2.0 ft) of snow in a series of tunnels solely with that sense. They then can crash to a snow depth roughly equal to their own body size to grab their prey. Only this species and, more infrequently, other fairly large owls from the genus Strix are known to “snow-plunge” for prey, a habit that is thought to require superb hearing not possessed by all types of owls.

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