Great Gray Owl perched on post

53 Fun Facts About The Great Gray Owl (Photos, ID & Info)

The Great Gray Owl is a type of owl native to North America. They are the largest species of owl in North America and can be found in most regions of Canada, Alaska, and the northern United States. In this article, we will explore 53 fun facts about The Great Gray Owl with photos that might surprise you!


  • Identification: The Great Gray Owl is a master of camouflage. It has a uniform, silvery gray coat with just a hint of brown barring and some streaking, and its feathers are shaped to obscure the bird’s true size. It has a big round head, and a facial disk that has a grayish-brown outline that fades into a fine white outline on the lower half of the disk. Its eyes have piercing yellow irises, with deep black pupils, and a short yellow downward hooked bill.
  • Adult Length: 23.6-33.5 in (60-85 cm). Females (Avg): 2.3 feet. Males (Avg): 2.2 feet.
  • Adult Weight: 1.3-4.8 lbs. (20.8-76.8 oz). Females (Avg): 2.9 lbs. Males (Avg): 2.2 lbs.
  • Wingspan: 53.9 – 60.2 in (137-153 cm) Females (Avg): 4.8 feet. Males (Avg): 4.7 feet.
  • Order: Strigiformes
  • Family: Strigidae
  • Genus: Strix
  • Species: S. nebulosa
  • Binomial Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Distribution Range:  In North America: Includes southern Canada, most of Alaska, northern New England, Minnesota to Maine in the east, Arizona to California in the west and Florida to eastern Oregon on its southern edge. In Europe: Sweden, Russia, Norway, Finland, Ukraine, Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Germany, Poland. In Asia: Eastern and Western Asia.
  • Habitat:  Forests, mountains, prairies, woodland, open fields, mountainsides and tundra regions.
  • Diet: Its diet consists of small mammals such as pocket gophers, hares, moles, weasels, rabbits, shrews, voles, squirrels and chipmunks as well as other birds such as thrushes, jays,  grouse, quail, ducks, as well as smaller hawks.
  • Lifespan: In the Wild: 13 years of age.(starvation is the main cause of death) In Captivity: up to 40 years of age.
  • North American Population: est. 90,000 individuals.
  • Global Population: est. 190,000 individuals.
  • Global Population Breeding Pairs: 25,000 pairs.
  • Conservation Status: Listed Least Concern (Population is stable).
  • Nesting Behavior: The Great Gray Owl is a large bird that reuses old nests from raptors. The owl’s nesting behavior varies depending on the time of year and the location. The female lays about four eggs in each clutch, in which she incubates for about 28-36 days before they hatch. At approximately three to four weeks, the young owlets will be able to hop from branch to branch, and begin to fly a couple of weeks later.
  • Incubation Length: 28-35 days
  • Nestling Length: 25 – 30 days
  • Clutch Size: 2 – 5 eggs
  • Number of Broods: 1 Brood
  • Egg Description: Small and pale white
Great Gray Owl perched
Image by LynnB from Pixabay

Fun Facts About The Great Gray Owl

  • The Great Gray Owl is one of the most popular owls among bird watchers because it’s fairly easy to find them during their breeding season (March-August). 
  • Great Gray Owls are the biggest owls in North America. They have a wingspan of up to five feet and weigh between three and four pounds. 
  • The great gray owl reaches sexual maturity at two to three years old. They are capable of breeding as soon as they reach this age, but it takes them another year or two before they have the strength and stamina for courtship displays. 
  • Great Gray Owls prey on small mammals, such as mice, rabbits, squirrels and raccoons. These owls often sit motionless for long periods of time before attacking with rapid speed when they find an opportunity to grab their prey. This hunting technique is called perch-and-pounce.
  • The adult Great Gray Owl does have some natural predators, such as the Great-horned Owl, Golden Eagle, Common Raven, Northern Goshawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Lynx and Black Bear.
  • Great Gray Owls are known as the tallest owl species in the world. The average height of these owls is about 2 feet tall, and they can be as much as 3 feet tall. 
  • During mating season, male Great Gray Owls will form courtship leks to attract females. 
  • The Great Gray Owl is a sexually dimorphic species, with females being larger than males. The size difference between male and female owls may vary depending on the time of year and diet; however, there is typically an average weight difference of 20%. This size difference can often lead to sexual dominance hierarchies.
  • The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is a United States federal law which protects all migratory birds in the U.S., including great gray owls, from being hunted or killed for their feathers and eggs. This law was enacted because many species of migratory birds were becoming endangered due to hunting practices at the time. 
  • They do not build nests, and prefer to use old nesting spots previously used by raptors that are high up in old trees with good vantage points. This makes it hard for predators to sneak up on them. 
Great Gray Owl
Image by Peggy Stark from Pixabay
  • The Great Gray Owl was first described by Johann Reinhold Forster in 1772, from a specimen collected by Andrew Graham. In the same year of the owl’s discovery, it was also classified as a new species.
  • Dr. John Richardson was a fur trader and explorer who spent his life in the Canadian wilderness. He discovered Canada’s first Great Gray Owl nest on 23 May 1826 at Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada. The discovery is historically significant because it helped confirm that the large gray owls living in this area were not simply part of an isolated population, but instead are an entirely new species to science.
  • The Great Gray Owl is a powerful and fierce predator, especially when defending their nest. They are capable of driving off predators as large as black bears due to their size and ferocity.
  • Many collective nouns exist for a group of owls, including “glaring”, “bazaar”, “parliament”, and “wisdom” of owls. A “Glaring” is a small number of owls in one place. A “Bazaar” is a group that meets up at night to hunt prey together. A “Parliament” consists of two or more pairs of breeding owls, while “Wisdom” is a group with three or more.
  • Great Gray Owls are known for their ability to rotate their heads as much as 270°, giving them the power to look in any direction they want. This adaptation has helped them survive in the wild, where predators are always lurking around every corner.
  • Owlets (young owls) take their first flight between 4 and 6 weeks old. This is the time when they learn how to fly and develop coordination skills. It’s also a chance for them to stretch their wings and start exploring what is around them, including hunting opportunities nearby. Young owls can stay in the air for about 10 minutes before they need to land again.
  • The Great Gray Owl typically reaches sexual maturity at 2 or 3 years of age, but it can take longer for some individuals. 
  • Groups of these owls will sometimes perform coordinated strikes against prey after using calls to coordinate themselves with each other. 
  • The oldest Great Gray Owl ever recorded in the wild was almost 19 years of age. This is just one more indicator that this species is thriving in its natural habitat, since the average lifespan for a wild owl is only about thirteen years. Great Gray Owls are well-known for their extraordinary longevity, with some individuals surviving up to 40 years in captivity.
  • Great Gray Owls have a unique adaptation that helps them survive the cold. They have a small amount of blood vessels in their ears, which help warm up the air before it enters the ear canal.
Great Gray Owl Flying
Image by TheOtherKev from Pixabay
  • The Great Gray Owl is a predatory bird that specializes in hunting and eating large prey. The Great Gray Owl’s talons are adapted for tearing large prey apart, making them excellent hunters of adult snowshoe hares. They can consume up to 1,500 rodents in one year, but they will also eat small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels when available.
  • Adult great gray owls will typically weigh anywhere from 2 to 3 pounds. The average weight for an adult female is 3 pounds, while the average weight for an adult male is around 2 pounds. 
  • Great Gray Owls are unlike other owls. They are active hunters during daylight hours, often hunting during Arctic summers when there are 24 hours of daylight. This is because they do not rely on their camouflage to hide from prey like most other owl species; instead, they take advantage of the day’s long light to see and capture food without having to fly at night or in dark conditions.
  • The Great Gray Owl can fly at speeds up to 55 km/h (34 mph) at level flight.
  • The Great Gray Owl is one of the most silent, solitary and stealthy predators in North America. It is also an excellent hunter with a strong sense of hearing. Great Gray Owls have superb hearing, 10x better than humans! They can detect rodents moving beneath deep snow with great precision. Their super sensitive ears pick up low-frequency sounds that are inaudible to human ears.
  • The Great Gray Owl’s vision is 10x to 100x stronger than a human. The average person has 20/20 vision, meaning they can see objects clearly from 200 feet away. The Great Gray Owl’s vision is 10-100 times stronger, so it can see objects at least 2000 feet away. 
  • A Great Gray Owl uses their throat muscles to create a vacuum seal when swallowing food. This allows them to consume prey whole with ease. 
  • One interesting feature of this owl is that they have an unusual feather structure on their legs called feather tufts. This enables them to stay warm while sitting on branches in cold weather. 
  • One way that Great Gray Owls stay warm during cold winter days is by sitting on branches while fluffing their feathers to trap air inside them for insulation. This helps them keep warm when it’s below freezing outside because they don’t have any fat reserves to rely on like other animals do.

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