Saturday, January 22, 2011

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owls (Strix nebulosa) are the largest owl species in North America. They have a wingspan over 4 feet with a body length of up to 27 inches. They can weigh over 2 pounds. Females are usually larger than males, but they are otherwise identical in appearance. Great Gray Owls have a large, rounded, half-domed head with a large, flat facial disk and no ear tufts. The Great Gray Owl was first described by Johann Reinhold Forster in 1772. The name "nebulosa" is derived from the Latin nebulosus, "misty, foggy." Perhaps for this it has also been called Great Gray Ghost or Phantom of the North. It's the provincial bird of Manitoba.

Yesterday, Saturday January 22, Brenda, Vaia Touna and I went shlepping along the range roads north of Opal and toward Thorhild, looking for the Ghost. On two previous occasions this winter we had no success, but on this day we saw the owl, only one, and spent about an hour enjoying its patient "sit and wait" mode of hunting. It's prey consists almost entirely of small rodents (mice, voles, chipmunks) but will also take snakes, frogs, toads, even weasels and insects and, rarely, other birds.

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