Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)


Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)
Caption / Description:

The Great Grey Owl or Lapland Owl (Strix nebulosa) is a very large owl, distributed across the Northern Hemisphere. In some areas it is also called the Great Gray Ghost, Phantom of the north, Cinerous Owl, Spectral Owl, Lapland Owl, Spruce Owl, Bearded Owl and Sooty Owl.

Adults have a big, rounded head with a grey face and yellow eyes with darker circles around them. The underparts are light with dark streaks; the upper parts are grey with pale bars. This owl does not have ear tufts and has the largest facial disc of any raptor.

In terms of length, the Great Grey Owl rivals the Eurasian Eagle Owl and the Blakiston's Fish Owl as the world's largest owl. The Great Grey is outweighed by both the Great Horned (Bubo virginianus) and Snowy (Nyctea scandiaca) owls. Much of its size is deceptive, since this species' fluffy feathers, long tail and large head obscure a body lighter than that of most other large owls. The length ranges from 61 to 84cm (24 to 33in), averaging 72cm (27in) for females and 67cm (26in) for males. The wingspan can exceed 152cm (60in), but averages 142cm (56in) for females and 140cm (55in) for males. The adult weight ranges from 700 to 1800 grams (1½ to 4lb), averaging 1290 grams (2lb 14oz) for females and 1000 g (2lb 3 oz) for males. The males are usually smaller than females, as in most owl species.

They breed in North America from as far east as Quebec to the Pacific coast and Alaska, and from Finland and Estonia across northern Asia. They are permanent residents, but may move south and southeast when food is scarce. A small population, estimated at less than 100 birds, occurs in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. This population is the southernmost population of the species' range and is listed Endangered under California's Endangered Species Act.

Their breeding habitat is the dense coniferous forests of the taiga, near open areas, such as meadows or bogs. Great Grey Owls do not build nests, so typically use nests previously used by another large bird, such as a raptor. They will also nest in broken-topped trees and cavities in large trees. Nesting may occur from March to May. Four eggs are the usual clutch size. Eggs average 42.7mm wide and 53.5mm long (1.68 by 2.11in). The incubation period is about 30 days, ranging from 28 to 36 days. Brooding lasts 2 to 3 weeks, after which the female starts roosting on a tree near nests. The young jump or fall from the nest at 3 to 4 weeks, and start to fly 1 to 2 weeks after this. Most offspring remain near their natal sites for many months after fledging.

The abundance of food in the area usually affects the number of eggs a female lays, a feature quite common in northern owl species. If food is scarce, they may travel a fair distance to find more prey, with considerable movements by large numbers in some years of particularly scarce prey. Though they do not migrate, many are at least somewhat nomadic.

These birds wait, listen, and watch for prey, then swoop down; they also may fly low through open areas in search of prey. 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 60cm (2 feet) of snow in a series of tunnels solely with that sense. These owls can crash through snow that could support the weight of a 180-pound person. Unlike the more versatile eagle and horned owls, Great Grey Owls rely almost fully upon small rodents, with voles being their most important food source. Locally, alternative prey animals (usually comprising less than 20% of prey intake) include hares, moles, shrews, weasels, thrushes, grouse, Gray Jays, small hawks and ducks. Great Grey Owl juveniles may themselves fall prey to bears, fishers, and large hawks, especially Northern Goshawks; while adults may fall prey to Bubo owls and lynxes.

The call of the adult is a series of very deep, rhythmic whoos, which is usually given in correlation to their territories or in interactions with their offspring. At other times, adults are normally silent. The young may chitter, shriek or hiss.

The harvest of timber from the Great Grey Owl's habitat is, perhaps, the greatest threat to this species. Intensified timber management typically reduces live and dead large-diameter trees used for nesting, leaning trees used by juveniles for roosting before they can fly, and dense canopy closures in stands used by juveniles for cover and protection. If perches are not left in clearcuts, Great Grey Owls cannot readily hunt in them. Although human-made structures (made specifically for use by this species) have been utilized by these owls, the species is far more common in areas protected from logging. Livestock grazing in meadows also adversely affects Great Grey Owls, by reducing habitat for preferred prey species.

Description from Wikipedia:

Tags / Keywords:
  • Biota
  • Life
  • Vitae
  • Eukaryota
  • Animalia
  • Animals
  • Chordata
  • Chordates
  • Aves
  • Birds
  • Strigiformes
  • Owls
  • Strigidae
  • Typical owls
  • True Owls
  • Strix
  • Strix nebulosa
  • Great Grey Owl
  • Great Gray Ghost
  • Phantom of the north
  • Cinerous Owl
  • Spectral Owl
  • Lapland Owl
  • Spruce Owl
  • Bearded Owl and Sooty Owl


Date Original Photo Taken:
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2336px x 3541px
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Nikon Adobe RGB


Location Shown:
Rutland Falconry & Owl Centre
United Kingdom
World Region:
Location Created:
Rutland Falconry & Owl Centre
United Kingdom
World Region:
52.682017581111, -0.66304420305556 View on map


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Copyright Notice:
© 2010 Dave Kennard

Camera Data

Date Digital Resource was created:
Shutter speed:
11000 s
Camera Model:
Nikon D200
Exposure Compensation:
Focal Length:
Focal Length (35mm equiv.):
Metering Mode:
No Flash
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White Balance:
Light Source:
Exposure Program:
Aperture-priority AE

Additional shooting metadata

Nikon AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor ED 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G(IF)
Filters used:
  • B+W UV 010 MRC
Additional Optics used:

Post Processing

Image Modified:
Software used:
  • Nikon Capture NX 2
Post Processing:

Cropped in Capture NX 2