all about great gray owls

Photographs by Terry Brashear

Great Gray Facts


By its striking appearance alone,  the great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) is a remarkable denizen of the boreal forest.  It is found worldwide throughout the boreal forest zone, often tucked away in the far reaches of spruce and fir lowlands.  Great grays are the largest owls (by measurement) found in North America, although several species with lesser features outweigh the great gray (great-horned, snowy).  The great gray is a small mammal specialist in every sense of the word, dining primarily on microtines (meadow voles, red-backed voles).  As a result, the species is prone to conspicuous large-scale movements when small mammal populations crash.   The owl initiates its courtship calling in February and March (depending upon latitude), and generally uses the abandoned nests of crows and raptors for its own nesting efforts.


Great Gray Owl Call


A series of booming hoots that descend in pitch.  When you hear the great gray, you know you are in the North Woods!


North American Breeding Distribution
Click on the map to see if the great gray owl can be found in a boreal forest near you.


Great grays utilize dense boreal forest conifers and stands of aspen and other hardwoods within or adjacent to lowland tracts for nesting, and a variety of open habitats (meadows, fields) for foraging.  

Has This Ever Happened to You? Let me know your owl stories and I will post them on my site.

Two years ago, I made an attempt to find the nest of a pair of great grays.  Doing so immediately became an experiment in frustration.  I moved through thawing black spruce bogs and either treaded lightly on mossy hummocks or plunged knee-deep into icy water.  I sweat streaming beads of perspiration.  I was ready to give up.  Just then, I had the strangest feeling that I was being watched.  I was!  Not more than 35 feet away, perched on a broken fir, was the great gray.  In fading daylight, I watched as it eyed me, then flew silently into the black spruce.