Category: Great grey owl


Like many, owls are one of my favourite groups of birds to photograph. Early this summer I had an awesome week with 3 different species ranging in size from tiny to tall, endangered to numerous, with all of them having the common theme of putting on a great display of flight for me.

It started off in Grasslands, with the charismatic, endangered burrowing owl that came to hunt insects right next to where I had set up my gear.

Burrowing owl flight forward WMNext stop was Banff and my good owl luck continued with the first animal I came across being an impressive great grey owl. It was conveniently perched right next to a roadside pullout, and didn’t seem bothered at all by the traffic. Despite being so visible, most people didn’t even see it as they drove past! He’s an image as it hunted for a vole in the grass.

GGO flight motion feathers eye WMLater that same day I got a tip about a northern pygmy owl hanging around the area. Sure enough, after a bit of waiting I spotted this tiny little owl. It flew directly into a tree cavity before I could get a picture, so I waited for its exit. I barely had time to prepare. It seemed to almost shoot out of the cavity, and as I held the shutter release button I wasn’t sure if I was quick enough. It wasn’t until I got home and downloaded the images that I found this one.

Northern Pygmy owl flight cropped WMNeedless to say, it was a great week of owl photography and one I won’t soon forget!

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Great grey owls are the tallest owls in North America, and yet they weigh about half as much as snowy or great horned owls. They are in essence giant fluff balls and need to always be on the lookout for potential predators. I found this great grey owl on a recent trip through the Rockies. Surprisingly, it was out hunting during the middle of the day, when many of its potential predators were out and about. It was on high alert for large raptors and when it spotted a circling red-tailed hawk, it immediately went into defensive mode. It locked its eyes on the hawk, fluffed itself up and tried to appear as intimidating as possible.

GGO high alert WMDeciding that the intimidation factor wasn’t having the desired results, it made a quick retreat!

GGO launching into flight WM

Heading to the ground allowed the owl to both hide under the bushes and provided camouflage. Any attack from the hawk would allow the owl to roll over on its back and use its talons to fend off the raptor. If you’ve ever come across an injured owl or hawk on the ground, you’ve probably experienced this same strategy first hand.

GGO on ground WMAfter several minutes the hawk soared over to another meadow and the owl relaxed. With the coast clear, it flew off low to the ground.

GGO flight exit WMThis process was repeated a few more times, but with the spring rodent supply being so plentiful the easy prey must have outweighed the hassle of putting up with the pesky hawk.

GGO release WM WP 640

For some time now I have been meaning to posts stories and photos of a few of the wildlife patients I get the privileged of helping.  What better way to start than with a beautiful great grey owl?

This owl was hit by a car near Bragg Creek, Alberta and was found dazed and unable to fly by a concerned member of the public.  They were able to safely catch and bring it into us at the wildlife hospital.  A physical examination, blood work and x-rays confirmed that it did not have any fractured bones, so treatments were geared towards treating for the muscle trauma, dehydration and thin body condition.  The owl soon recovered from the trauma, but needed to regain some weight and its flight muscles so it was transferred to a larger, outdoor flight pen where it spent the next several weeks gaining its strength back. Last week it was strong enough for release.

On the release day, as with all raptors at the center, we placed a metal band on the left leg so that if the owl ever gets handled or spotted in the wild we can get an idea of how successful our efforts at rehabilitation are.

GGO spruce top horizontal best WM

With its razor sharp talons firmly grasped around the flimsy top of a sapling, a great grey owl intensely scans and listens for any unsuspecting prey.