Great Gray Owls I learned many interesting things by reading this article on great grey owls. I really had no knowledge of this species before I began, but I now have a certain respect for them because of the familiarity I have gained. One interesting aspect of these owls is their hunting methods. The great gray owl is a very aggressive hunter when it finds its prey. "These owls don't just pounce, the plunge" (Warren, p. 78).
First, they locate their prey with the help of their large facial disk that funnels sound to their ears. Then, they tuck their extremely sharp hooked-shaped claws under their chin and torpedo headfirst towards the ground to snatch their next meal. In winter, when there is snow on the ground, the owl plunges into the snow. After a successful dive, it wiggles out from below the surface of the snow and takes its food to a safe spot to eat. These owls are so powerful when they hunt, they can shatter snow crust thick enough to hold a 180 pound person. I don't think they will be losing too many meals with that kind of force.
This hunting technique these owls use gives them a great advantage over other birds in the winter, because others must go to a place where the snow is not so thick. Great gray owls eat a variety of rodents in the lower 48 states, but stick to mostly voles in Canada and Alaska. These small rodents make up 80-90% of their diet. In the winter, adult gray owls can assume up to one-third of their weight daily. Females eat even more to sustain a reserve tank for when the more competitive summer months come. Conservation biologist Jim Duncan said that during the winter, "It's as if there's a big winter sale on voles, and great gray owls are the only customers in the store" (Warren, p.
79). Sounds like a pretty good sale to me! (Great Gray Owls, 2005) Another very intriguing fact that I learned is that great gray owls make very devoted parents. This was discovered when it was observed that mothers will practically starve themselves when prey is scarce. Females sometimes even lose one-third of their body weight in just one month. They do this so their chick can eat the maximum amount of food as possible and grow up healthy. (Great Gray Owls, 2005) Great gray owls weigh only two to three pounds as adults, but their wingspans can be 60 inches across and 33 inches high.
The size of this animal makes it difficult for them to maneuver very well in areas of many trees that create dense vegetation, so they must find open spaces to live. (Great Gray Owls, 2005) Only two-thirds of owlets make it without being eaten by predators such as ravens, great horned owls, or weasels. This is so because once a chick breaks out of its shell, the area around the nest develops a distinct aroma and it immediately becomes a danger zone for them. Owls begin to fly when they are about seven to eight weeks old, but until then they must disperse from the nest. Despite their need to part from the nest, parents continue to feed and protect them to the best of their ability. (Great Gray Owls, 2005) Bibliography Warren, Lynne, "Great Gray Owls: Winged Silence." National Geographic Magazine.
February, 2005. pgs. 70-87.