Great Gray Owls

One of the least conspicuous birds in North America, the great gray owl inhabits the boreal forests of Alaska and Canada and the mountain forests of the Cascades, Northern Sierra Nevada and Northern Rockies; during the winter months, they may also be encountered in Minnesota and northern New England. Preferring dense, coniferous woodlands, they hunt primarily at night but become increasingly crepuscular or diurnal during the colder months of the year; it is then that they are most often observed, perched on a limb that overlooks a forest clearing. While this owl is seldom seen, its deep, resonant hoots often echo through remote northern forests.

Though great grays are our largest owls by length and wingspan (the latter may be up to 5 feet), they are not as heavy as great horned owls; their large head and prominant, ringed facial disc accentuate their size and make their yellow eyes appear to be small and closely spaced. Despite their size, great grays are not overly aggressive and feed primarily on small rodents (mice, voles, hares), grouse and songbirds.

Adult great gray owls have little to fear from natural predators (lynx are among their few adversaries) but their young (born in mid-late spring) may fall victim to goshawks, fishers, wolverines, lynx or bears. Indeed, the adults are more endangered by the activity of man, who drains the bogs and logs the forests that provide refuge to this ghost of the Great Northwoods.