Posted by: atowhee | May 22, 2013


There is a supreme gray eminence in fiction–Gandalf. There was once a gray eminence among philosophers of the late 20th Century–Bertrand Russell. Among mammals the gray eminence can only be the gray wolf–ancestor of our domestic canines and the stuff of legend from earliest human story-telling. In the avian world it is the Great Gray Owl. Here are my distant shots of the one I got to share this morning (around noon) with a pair of birding clients from Santa Clara County, California.GGO-FACING This top pic has the owl facing us along the road which was at least 100 yards from the owl’s perch.GGO LEAN2



This lower pic shows the white bars on the owl’s chin, one of several prominent field marks beyond size, color, the two concentric circles on the bird’s face.
The owl’s location was on private land in a meadow about halfway between the entrance to the Howard Prairie Resort on the north and the Howard Prairie Dam Road to the south. The meadow is narrow (maybe fifty yards wide at most) and is east of the road. We could clearly see the bird was on a fence that transects the field, running parallel to the highway and the field has ribbons on the wire between posts. The owl is bigger around than the fence posts.
The owl was, of course, a lifer for both visitng birders. One of several they collected today. And gray was our color of choice: leaden skies, gray clouds, Townsend’s Solitaire, Warbling Vireo, Sandhill Crane with brown stain, gray hoods on Nashville Warblers. Most surprising: a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, brought down from above by the unseasonal overnight snowfall perhaps. This bird was in a treetop along the Dam Road.
The GGO is a long-bodied owl, but most of its apparent bulk is feathers. Longer than other owls it is lighter than some, BNSA says it’s 15% lighter in wieght than Great Horned Owls. It often winters in mountains despite the snow-covered ground. Upon hearing prey move beneath the snow it will crash through the crust and capture the small mammal beneath.
It is not a migratory species but some northerly populations will disperse south in harsh weather or when rodent populations crash. The southern tip of its range in the western U.S. is in the California Sierra. GG0 often nests in broken off tree trunks. It hunts from the edges of meadows where rodents are found.
It is 27 inches tall. The Great Gray Owl’s wingspan exceeds 4 feet. By comparison the Osprey and Turkey Vulture both have wingspans over five feet, but both frequent wide open spaces. The TV is also about 27 inches long, the Osprey just under two feet. Of course, only the GGO can navigate and hunt with its hearing…in the dark…over deep snow…in severely cold weather. The GGO may hunt in the daytime and I suspect this owl may be feeding young so it needs to catch more rodents than at other times of the year.
Here is the range map for GGO as presented on BNA online (Birds of North America): ggo map-1 This map is not detailed enough to show the small area in the Applegate Valley where the species is known to nest and where my friend, Peter Thiemann, has taken great action shots of GGO. Click here for some of his pictures from last summer.


  1. […] CLICK HERE FOR PICS–AT A GREAT DISTANCE–OF GREAT GRAY OWL WE SAW. Our checklists: Emigrant Lake, Jackson, US-OR May 22, 2013 7:30 AM. 27 species […]

  2. […] If you click on any individual image you can get a full screen ivew of Peter’s crytalline images of this great bird of the mountain forest. Here is link to yesterday’s original post on finding this owl’s hunting ground. […]

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