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.


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


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.


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.


Great gray owl   Strix nebulosa