My Bird Blog: A blog about my birding discoveries, bird feeders, birds on my life lists, and all things bird related

Sue's Bird Blog Archives

Great Gray in Ontario

Published February 10, 2014
Tags: Life List Happenings, Great Gray Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Snow Bunting, Wild Turkey, Common Raven

You know how some days, you find many wonderful birds in a short period of time?  Well... today was the exact opposite!  We found one, spectacular bird after a very lonnnnnnnng wait in nearly zero degree temps!  I don't think I've ever experienced cold the way I did today.  As I'm sitting here, wrapped in an afghan and appreciating its warmth, I'm feeling a deep satisfaction. Earlier today, though, I didn't know if I could stand another minute of the frigid temps!  HOWEVER - it turned out to be well worth it.

After over SIX HOURS of waiting, the Great Gray Owl finally was found by the amazing Jean Iron!  Our hostess pretty much danced at her location down the road, announcing its long-awaited presence in the waning light.  We all hurried our chilled bones down to Jean's spot and finally, after soooo many hours, warmed our eyeballs on this gorgeous life bird. What a thrill!

There s/he was, nonchalantly sitting atop a scraggly bush in the setting sun.  S/he had no sign of guilt over the misery it had caused us today.  It turned its head here, rotated almost full around there, and then looked us directly in the eyes, as if to say, "do I know you???".

Determining age and sex in this species is not easy. Great Gray Owls are not sexually dimorphic, meaning genders do not appear different from one another. The female is generally a little larger than the male, but unless you have both present, it's difficult to tell what you're looking at. Jean and others speculate that this is a first year bird as its tail feathers come to more of a point and its primaries are wavy in color pattern. These diagnostics are difficult to discern, especially from a distance, and especially for a novice such as myself.

Unfortunately, word has it that this owl has been baited plenty often by a photographer who has no birding ethics. On Saturday, the owl was thrown 12 mice in an attempt to get it to fly across the road towards the photographer's lens for a direct in-flight shot.  What a greedy, selfish, son-of-a-gun. I'd love to have a few words with this guy!  Apparently, there's no law to stop him and he's been coming back time and again to get "the perfect shot". I'm all for a nice photo, but wow, not at the expense of the bird!

The Great Gray Owl is a very large boreal owl who feeds on small rodents like mice, voles, gophers, shrews, and small birds. It usually hunts from a perch, surveying a field and making good use of its keen sense of hearing.  This owl is not easily intimidated and will defend its nest from potential attackers as large as black bears!

Every once in awhile, there is an irruption of this species where they will come further south. Sometimes, it's due to over-population because of a very successful breeding year - or because their food sources are scarce. It's all about the food - and some years the competition for it is more intense. Back in 2005, there was a much greater irruption, and an area close to where we were today had at least 15 Great Grays! I can't even imagine that!

Other birds seen while we waited today were: Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Snow Buntings, Wild Turkey, and Common Raven. I finally got to hear the croak of a raven - very cool!

Once again, many thanks to Jean Iron - and also to Betsy Potter - for making this life bird possible for Celeste Morien and myself!  We owe you both and we can finally add the Phantom of the North to our life lists!
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Great Gray Owl
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Great Gray Owl
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Great Gray Owl - the sun peeked out for a short while, warming the photos up a bit
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Great Gray Owl
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Great Gray Owl
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Great Gray Owl
Reply from: Tim on 2/13/2014 10:33 PM
 Fantastic Sue ! What a great opportunity congrats
Reply from: Sue on 2/17/2014 8:58 AM
 Thanks, Tim - it really was an amazing opportunity. I didn't think it was going to even work out. What a cool bird s/he was...