Great Gray Owl perched on post

60 Fun Great Gray Owl Facts You Didn’t Know!

The Great Gray Owl, often called the “Phantom of the North,” captivates birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts with its striking appearance and elusive nature. This majestic owl holds many intriguing secrets.

In this collection of 60 Great Gray Owl facts, we explore their unparalleled hunting skills, unique survival adaptations, and more. Join us as we uncover the fascinating details of this remarkable bird’s life and habits.

Fun Facts About Great Gray Owls

Great Gray Owl perched
Image by LynnB from Pixabay
IdentificationThe Great Gray Owl is a master of camouflage with a silvery gray coat, brown barring, and streaking. It has a big round head with a facial disk outlined in grayish-brown, fading into white on the lower half. Its eyes have yellow irises with black pupils, and it has a short, downward-hooked yellow bill.
Adult Length23.6-33.5 in (60-85 cm); Females (Avg): 2.3 feet; Males (Avg): 2.2 feet.
Adult Weight1.3-4.8 lbs. (20.8-76.8 oz); Females (Avg): 2.9 lbs; Males (Avg): 2.2 lbs.
Wingspan53.9 – 60.2 in (137-153 cm); Females (Avg): 4.8 feet; Males (Avg): 4.7 feet.
TaxonomyOrder: Strigiformes, Family: Strigidae, Genus: Strix, Species: S. nebulosa, Binomial Name: Strix nebulosa, Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa.
Distribution RangeNorth America: Southern Canada, most of Alaska, northern New England, Minnesota to Maine in the east, Arizona to California in the west, Florida to eastern Oregon in the south. Europe: Sweden, Russia, Norway, Finland, Ukraine, Belarus, China, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Germany, Poland. Asia: Eastern and Western Asia.
HabitatForests, mountains, prairies, woodland, open fields, mountainsides, tundra regions.
DietSmall mammals (pocket gophers, hares, moles, weasels, rabbits, shrews, voles, squirrels, chipmunks) and other birds (thrushes, jays, grouse, quail, ducks, smaller hawks).
LifespanIn the Wild: 13 years (starvation is the main cause of death); In Captivity: up to 40 years.
PopulationNorth America: Estimated 90,000 individuals; Global: Estimated 190,000 individuals; Global Population Breeding Pairs: 25,000 pairs.
Conservation StatusListed as Least Concern (Population is stable).
Nesting BehaviorReuses old nests from raptors. Female lays about four eggs, incubates for 28-36 days. Young owlets hop from branch to branch at about three to four weeks, begin to fly a couple of weeks later.
Incubation Length28-35 days.
Nestling Length25 – 30 days.
Clutch Size2 – 5 eggs.
Number of Broods1 Brood.
Egg DescriptionSmall and pale white.
  • Popular Among Bird Watchers: The Great Gray Owl is a favorite among bird watchers because they are relatively easy to spot during their breeding season, which occurs from March to August.
  • Courtship Leks: During the mating season, male Great Gray Owls gather in groups known as “courtship leks” to attract females through various displays and vocalizations.
Great Gray Owl
Image by Peggy Stark from Pixabay
  • Collective Nouns: Owls have various collective nouns, including a “glaring” (a small number of owls in one place), a “bazaar” (a group that gathers at night to hunt prey together), a “parliament” (comprising two or more pairs of breeding owls), and a “wisdom” (a group with three or more members).
  • Sexual Maturity: Typically, the Great Gray Owl attains sexual maturity at the age of 2 or 3 years, though it may take longer for some individuals.
  • Coordinated Strikes: Groups of Great Gray Owls occasionally engage in coordinated strikes against prey. They use calls to coordinate their actions with each other during these hunting efforts.
Great Gray Owl Flying
Image by TheOtherKev from Pixabay
  • Predatory Specialization: The Great Gray Owl is a predatory bird known for its specialization in hunting and consuming large prey. Their talons are well-adapted for tearing apart sizable prey, making them proficient hunters of adult snowshoe hares. Additionally, they have the capability to consume up to 1,500 rodents in a single year, but they will also feed on smaller mammals like rabbits and squirrels when these opportunities arise.
  • Adult Weight Variation: Adult Great Gray Owls typically weigh between 2 to 3 pounds. Adult females tend to have an average weight of 3 pounds, while adult males generally weigh around 2 pounds.
  • Diurnal Hunting Behavior: In contrast to many other owl species, Great Gray Owls exhibit diurnal hunting behavior. They are active hunters during daylight hours and are often observed hunting during Arctic summers when there are 24 hours of daylight. This unique behavior is due to their reliance on vision rather than camouflage to capture prey. They take advantage of extended daylight to locate and capture food without the need to fly at night or in darkness.
  • Impressive Flight Speed: The Great Gray Owl can achieve remarkable speeds of up to 55 km/h (34 mph) during level flight.
  • Silent and Stealthy Predators: Great Gray Owls are among the most silent, solitary, and stealthy predators in North America. They possess exceptional hearing abilities, estimated to be 10 times better than that of humans. This keen sense of hearing enables them to detect rodents moving beneath deep snow with remarkable precision. Their super-sensitive ears are capable of picking up low-frequency sounds that are beyond the range of human hearing.
  • Unique Feeding Adaptation: Great Gray Owls employ their throat muscles to create a vacuum seal when swallowing food. This adaptation allows them to consume prey whole with ease.
  • Feather Tufts for Warmth: One notable feature of these owls is the presence of feather tufts on their legs. These feather tufts serve to keep them warm while perched on branches in cold weather conditions.
  • Cold Weather Survival Strategy: During cold winter days, Great Gray Owls remain warm by sitting on branches and fluffing their feathers to trap air within them, providing effective insulation. Unlike some animals with fat reserves for insulation, these owls rely on this unique method to stay warm when temperatures drop below freezing.
  • Distinctive Facial Disk: The Great Gray Owl is characterized by its facial disk outlined in grayish-brown, which fades into white on the lower half. This distinctive feature enhances their ability to capture sound and pinpoint the location of prey.
  • Territorial Defense: Great Gray Owls are known for their territorial behavior. They defend their territories fiercely, particularly during the breeding season. Intruding owls, including other Great Gray Owls, are met with aggressive displays and vocalizations.
  • Adaptation to Snowy Environments: Their plumage is well-suited for snowy environments. Their predominantly silvery-gray coloration serves as effective camouflage against snow-covered landscapes, aiding them in both hunting and avoiding predators.
  • Conservation Success: Despite facing various challenges, the Great Gray Owl has managed to maintain a stable population, earning it a status of “Least Concern” on the conservation scale. This remarkable success is a testament to their adaptability and resilience in their natural habitats.


  • Vince S

    Meet Vince, the passionate founder and author of Learn Bird Watching, boasting 30 years of birding experience. With an unwavering mission to empower fellow bird enthusiasts, Vince shares invaluable wisdom and guidance. As a dedicated moderator and contributor to Quora's Bird Watchers' Club, he actively engages with the birding community, where his insightful answers have garnered over 440,000 views and over 2,670 upvotes. Whether you're a budding birder or a seasoned avian aficionado, his wealth of knowledge is at your service.

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