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Great Grey Owl

Strix nebulosa

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61 - 84cm

1.4 - 1.5m

0.6 - 1.9kg

10 - 13 yrs

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The great grey owl is often considered the world’s largest owl species by length. It has many localised nicknames, such as the Phantom of the North, cinereous owl, spectral owl, Lapland owl, spruce owl, bearded owl, and sooty owl. It is found across the Northern Hemisphere, and it is the only species in the genus Strix found in both Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

Least Concern

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LC

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Their large, rounded head has a grey face with yellow eyes. The underparts are light with dark streaks whereas the upper parts are grey with pale bars. Notably, it has the largest facial disc of any owl species, but lacks ear tufts. They have a white collar or "bow tie" just below the beak. The long tail tapers to a rounded end.

What Does it Look Like?

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What Does it Sound Like?

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The call of the adult is a series of very deep, rhythmic whoos. This is used to state their presence within their territory or to interact with their offspring. However, for the most part they generally remain silent. The young may chatter, shriek or hiss. Captive owls may produce higher-pitched hoots when given food by humans.

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Great grey owls depend on small rodents, such as lemmings, gophers or voles. They may also take hares, moles, shrews, and weasels. Only this species (and other large owls from the genus Strix) are known to "snow-plunge" for prey, a habit that is thought to require superb hearing not possessed by other owls.

What Does it Eat?

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Where Does it Nest?

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They use the vacant nests of other raptors, often in tree cavities, and change nesting sites each year. However, when rodents are scarce they may fail to nest, affecting their reproductive success. The clutch size is four eggs with an incubation period of 30 days. The young leave the nest at 3 - 4 weeks, and start to fly 1 - 2 weeks later.

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They breed in North America and from Finland and Estonia to northern Asia. They are also found in Norway and Sweden through to Russia. In northern areas their habitat is dense coniferous forest near meadows or bogs. They were once believed to require a cold climate, but can survive where summer temperatures exceed 38 °C.

Where Does it Live?

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What is its Status?

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The harvest of timber is the greatest threat to this species, reducing trees used for nesting. As such, they are more common in areas protected from logging. Another danger is the West Nile Virus, which is likely to become more prevalent with climate change. Testing in Yosemite has found evidence of the virus in that population.

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