Owl (Great Grey Owl)

Strix nebulosa

IUCN Red List status: Least Concern

For more info on classifications, visit www.iucnredlist.org

Least Concern


Where they live

northern Hemisphere


lives in the pine and spruce forests of the Taiga


length 61-84cm, wingspan up to 152cm


680-1,814g, males are usually smaller than females


up to 13 years (wild) Up to 25 years (Zoo)


Include regular fluctuations in prey numbers, habitat loss and hunting

Did you know...

  • Their specific name, nebulosa, is derived from a Latin word meaning misty or foggy
  • As in most owl species female great grey owls are larger than the males
  • The Great grey owl’s ears are lopsided – one is higher than the other to make it easier to identify the source of a sound and easier to catch its prey
  • In the Harry Potter series, the Weasley family owl, Errol, is a Great grey

More about Great Grey Owls...

This species is also known as the Great Grey Ghost or Phantom of the North and is the provincial bird emblem of Manitoba, an area in Canada. They do not have ear tufts, but have the largest facial disc of any owl. Although they look large, inside they are no bigger than a Tawny owl, the rest is feathers for insulation. On the top of their heads the feathers can be 100 mm thick.

Their breeding habitat is the dense Taiga, the coniferous forest belt of the northern hemisphere where it lives near open areas, such as meadows or bogs. Great grey owls do not build nests, but take nests previously used by other large birds. They will also nest in broken-topped trees and cavities in large trees.

Nesting occurs from March to May, when femles will lay four eggs per clutch with an incubation period of 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.

Great Grey Owls are carnivores and feed almost exclusively on small rodents. Voles are their most important food source. Locally, alternative prey animals include hares, moles, shrews, jays, grouse, small hawks and ducks.

These birds hunt by waiting, listening, and watching for prey, then swooping down from a perch.

Their large facial discs, also known as ruffs, focus sound, and the asymmetrical placement of their ears assists them in locating prey, This is important as there is a lack of light during the late and early hours in which they hunt.

Their excellent hearing helps them locate and capture prey moving beneath 60cm of snow in a series of tunnels. These owls can crash through snow that could support the weight of an 82kg person.

Great grey owls have a distinctive primary call which is a very soft low-pitched hoot with the notes emitted slowly over a 6 to 8 second period. The call is used as a territorial declaration and can be heard up to half a mile away under good conditions. When threatened they will snap their beaks, spread their wings and growl.

How you can help...

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