The Great Grey Owl

RUFF…LIFE AND DEATH OF A GREAT GRAY OWL

Great Grey Owl head protrait

The stately Great Grey Owl

The Great Gray Owl is an infrequent visitor to Maine. But sometimes they must “relocate” due to a lack of food in their usual habitat, the boreal forests of Canada.  Perhaps that was the case for “Ruff” who was sighted in a field in Jackson, Maine in 2008. The owner of the field in which Ruff claimed his perch was excited to have him as a tenant and let the word out that Ruff was there. He had not anticipated that his land would soon be flocked by photographers and birdsee’ers. (It was said that “birdwatchers” would not have participated in the going’s on that eventually led the property owner to call in the EMTs of the wildlife world- the wildlife rehabilitator team from Avian Haven.) But it was too late. He died two days later.

In here lies the ethics of birding. Did the constant observers impede the birds hunting and feeding habits? One visitor brought mice from a pet store to the field. Introducing kept animals into the wildlife can be harmful to them and the wildlife that feed on them.

“Owls are such great birds to see for both the avid bird watcher and casual observer. Because they are so tough to find there tends to be a mob mentality when people do report them.”

Wild Birds on the Fly Blog 

Some of the onlookers were mesmerized and appreciative of their sighing of the Great Gray Owl.

It may never be known whether or not the endless visitors, some of whom clearly stepped over the boundaries by “harassing” (chasing) the owl may have contributed to his death. According to the staff at Avian Haven, however, reported to a Boston newspaper, that the owl had “…a heavy parasitic load, anemia, signs of a respiratory disease, and evidence that the bird was in the advanced stages of starvation.” None of these conditions were acute, however. Perhaps the bird could have survived. It was a sad day when the rare and beautiful owl passed. (Wild Birds on the Fly)

FUN FACTS ABOUT GREAT GRAY OWLS

  • The old owl in the Harry Potter series was a Great Gray owl named Errol.
  • The Great Gray owl is just a “ball of feathers” – it weighs less than most other owls. It is all because of excessive and fluffier plumage.
  • Other names: “Phantom of the North”, “Bearded Owl” and “Sooty Owl”.
  • It is the tallest American owl with the largest wingspan.
  • The Great Gray is adept at “snow plunging”. They can dive into snow as deep as two feet to catch mice or voles. They leave characteristic “plunge marks” that indicate their presence.
  • Their facial disk is the largest of all raptors. They have a round head with concentric circles that direct sound waves to its ears.
  • One ear is positioned higher than the other.
  • They have markings that look like a “bow-tie” under their face.
  • They either build their nests in the tops of broken trees or “borrow” the nest of another species.

OTHER GREAT GRAY OWL FACTS:

  • Females are larger than males in length and weight.
  • Their length is between 61-84 cm. Their weight only about 2.4 pounds.
  • Their wingspan is around 52 inches.
  • They breed in late winter with their usual “clutch” about 4 eggs.
  • The eggs incubate for 28-36 days.
  • Their young emerge from their nests after 3 or 4 weeks and can fly on their own within a month.
  • Life span is wild is 10-13 years.