Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Great Gray Owl

Since moving to Minnesota ten years ago, Erika and I made annual, unsuccessful searches in the Sax-Zim Bog about 40 miles northwest of Duluth. This year’s quest, on our way home from Duluth, appeared to be no exception. We saw few birds and the roads were surrealistically crowded with slow-driving birders. Then, on Owl Ave., a quarter-mile ahead of us, we watched a car make a U-turn and park in the middle of the road. We pulled in behind, and, voila, there sat a Great Gray Owl!

Great Gray Owls inhabit boreal forests and bogs across Canada and south through the Rocky Mountains. They are also found in similar habitats across the Old World. Northern Minnesota is one of the few places in the eastern United States where they breed. In some winters, when prey is scarce, these owls wander further south.

Great Grays look massive, but are mostly feathers, which help during our bitterly cold winters. They are 15% smaller than Great Horned Owls (Bull and Duncan 1993). Great Gray Owls have exceptional hearing. They use their facial disks as parabolic reflectors and can locate voles beneath the snow. One way to know owls are present is to watch for “snow angels” left as the owl crashes through the snow. Notice the exposed ears behind the flying owl’s facial disk

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