Posted by: atowhee | December 23, 2018


There is now evidence that Great Gray Owls (hereafter “GGO”) are resident breeders in southeastern Clackamas County.  That’s less than 35 miles from Powell’s Book Store in central Portland.  The owls breeding there are at the northwestern edge of the GGO breeding range in Oregon as far as we now know.  When Peter Thiemann and I published our book, Great Gray Owls of California, Oregon and Washington [2015], we used the best available information to get our breeding range maps drawn.   GGOs had been seen occasionally at Silver Falls State Park in Marion County and it formed an isolated island of likely breeding habitat on the Oregon range map. The last CBC record there was in 2013. Now we know that GGOs are currently living and breeding in the low foothills north of Silverton and Silver Falls SP.  They are in an area east of Scotts Mills inside Clackamas County.  There are four unspecific sightings of GGOs in Clackamas recorded on eBird.  EBird does not disclose specific locations for this (and other) sensitive species.  Making it even more difficult to determine GGO presence in an area is their aloof behavior as opposed to aggressive territoriality…and the fact that there is no central avian database beyond the wonderful but haphazard reality of eBird and its voluntary user-base.

On this year’s Salem Christmas Bird Count I was teamed with two biologists from the Salem office of the BLM.  One was Corbin Murphy who himself has seen GGOs in Clackamas including a pair of immature birds in early summer.  Young GGOs are quite sedentary until their first autumn so those two were born near where Corbin saw them. After that sighting the private forest there was clear cut so the owls surviving would have moved to some suitable forest/meadow complex nearby. Some of the Clackamas sightings have been on private land.  According to most of these sightings GGOs are living and breeding in and around trees farms, elevation 1000-1600 feet in the Cascade foothills.

Corbin provided me with two maps.  One shows the BLM records of GGO sightings in the Scotts Mills area, the other adds the new known locations to the range map in our GGO book, now pleasantly outdated.  On this first map the colored dots show confirmed GGO sightings in past quarter century:ggo map2_LIHere is Corbin’s edited version of a range map from GGO book I co-published; red outlines the area that needs to be added to known Oregon breeding range for the species.

ggo new raNGE MAP

Both maps courtesy of Corbin Murphy, BLM, before he was furloughed.

Here is photo of Great Gray Owl taken near Molalla in Clackamas County, outside the count circle for the Silverton CBC.  This picture was sent to me by Roger Freeman who organizes that Christmas Count and who can vouch for the photographer.MOLLAL GGO

Oregon’s GGOs and the 300 or so in California are the southernmost members of their species on earth.  Most GGOs live far to the north, up to the timber line.  These Oregon/California birds are the only ones south of the 45th Parallel.  The Clackamas County owls are just north of that latitude.

The GGO is considered a sensitive species in California and Washington, but not in Oregon.  Pathetically they have now been denied any conservation status under the current federal regime. In Oregon I know of plans to log federal land where there are known GGO nest sites.  Thus there is little or no way to get any publicly-funded support for any study of their locations and habitat and breeding.  However, I am hoping to put together a coterie of volunteers to do monitoring in this area and see what we can see…or even hear should we be fortunate.  In late winter the GGOs will become vocal as they stake out breeding locations. In normal years owlets should begin hatching in May or June.

Further, I hope Portland Audubon Society can be enlisted to help organize a nest platform program for southeastern Clackamas.  In Jackson County the Oregon Birding Association and Rogue Valley Audubon have put together an effective platform placement program that has erected over 20 nests in known breeding forests.

Here are some relevant links:
The Silverton Christmas Bird Count circle map.
Information about Wilhoit Springs County Park, within the GGO breeding area in Clackamas.
Original range maps in our Great Gray Owl  book, published in 2015.
Announcement of the Great Gray Owl book publication.

Reactions to this posting:

“Thanks for posting this information.  Great Gray Owls have been a code 5 bird in Clackamas County previously.  I have been aware of only one previous Clackamas County record.  A bird was seen by a number of observers in the mid to late 1990s somewhere near Colton.  I searched for the bird at the time, but didn’t see it.  I don’t seem to have more precise details about that sighting in my records, but it was a winter record as I recall.  If someone on OBOL recalls more details about that sighting, I would be interested in having that information for my records for Clackamas County.
“Sincerely, Tim Janzen, Portland”


“Wasn’t there also a Great Gray near Mulino in the early 2000s that drew quite a crowd after information about it was published in ‘The Oregonian’? 

“Dave Irons”

“Dear Dave,

“This is indeed the record that I am thinking about.  It may have been closer to Mulino than to Colton.  In any case it was along a narrow road that ran east/west as I recall.  I think it was seen on at least 3 or 4 days, but it wasn’t seen consistently.    Tim”

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