The Visitor

Our resident great gray owl showed up about suppertime the other day. To our surprise, instead of perching in a nearby tree or on the garden fence rail, he chose the ladder just outside our front window.

Ladder

Great grays put to rest the idea that owls only appear at night. These owls are often seen during the day, especially morning and late afternoon. This one also seems to enjoy the sun. His regular roosts were in shade, the ladder in full sun. At times he seemed to be sunbathing, occasionally closing his eyes and drifting off to wherever owls go when they doze.

A short nap

The facial disc — the largest of any raptor — funnels sound to the ears. Covered by feathers, the ears are asymmetrical — the left one is lower than the right. This unusual placement, together with the large facial disc, provides excellent directional hearing.

Watching the watched

Silhouette

Great grays eat mainly mice and voles, though one particularly wet and soggy spring a young one sat in our garden eating worms.

They have excellent hearing. One source says: “Great gray owls can locate the sound of a moving mouse under snow 18 inches deep at a distance of 50 yards or more … .”

Something moving in the grass?

Owls have feathered feet which protects them during the long cold winters.

Checking out the equipment

Each of the owl’s four toes is tipped with a long talon or claw. The outer front toe is able to swivel from front to back. When flying and sometimes when perching three toes point forward and one back. This owl sat with just two facing front.

Talons

Take off

Back on his regular perch in a nearby poplar, the great gray blends in well. The species name, nebulosa, means misty or foggy, probably referring to the feathers that help camouflage it.

Camouflage


Great gray owl   Strix nebulosa

Up, Up and Away

Our resident great gray owl paid us a visit today. We first spotted him sitting on the fence in the drizzle. He scanned the snow-covered garden then turned to study the tall tangle of wild grass on the other side of the fence listening for mice or voles.

Great gray owl

As we sat down to supper he swooped close past the kitchen window and deep into the woods. Of course I was too late with the camera.

Several minutes later he flew back again. With great slow sweeps of his wings he came straight toward the window where we sat eating supper — then, to our amazement, he hovered in front of the window for several seconds staring directly in at us. Finally, with several strong wingbeats, he was up and over the roof and lost to sight.

Unforgettable.

Take off


Great gray owl   Strix nebulosa

Grey Day

The other morning I looked out the kitchen window and spotted a great grey owl sitting in the garden. A not uncommon sight but always a rush.

At first glance, he looks huge. However, thick feathered layers hide a deceptively small body weighing only about a kilo — not much more than a couple of pounds of butter.

I watch him as he hunts from his perch. No sound escapes him. Specialized feathers on the broad circular facial disc catch and focus each incoming sound. A raven overhead. A frog in the grass. Water running in the sink.

Despite their skill, they go hungry on occasion. One summer the rain never stopped. Everything was wet and soggy and miserable. A young, bedraggled grey appeared on our rail fence. To our utter amazement he flew down into the garden to eat worms.

 

While most owls are nocturnal, the great grey prefers hunting at dawn and dusk, its tiny eyes adapted to daylight. On overcast days you might see them any time.

The great grey has a higher tolerance for humans than many wild animals, sometimes to its detriment. Some people use them for target practice, leaving a broken body in the ditch. Just because they can.


Great grey owl   Strix nebulosa