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THE OUTDOORS DIGEST | FIELD GUIDE

Great gray owl

August 17, 2004|David Lukas

[STRIX NEBULOSA]

Biologists who conducted the first comprehensive wildlife survey of Yosemite National Park in 1915 made a startling discovery: a nesting pair of great gray owls. This remarkable Arctic owl had never been found breeding south of Canada and only rarely wandered into the United States. Today, more extensive surveys indicate that 40 to 50 great grays live in California. Nearly all of these secretive, solitary owls reside in the central Sierra Nevada within forests around montane meadows. During years with abundant voles and gophers, they may raise a brood of two to three fledglings. By late summer, parents lead their loudly begging youngsters around the forest to prepare them for life on their own.

NATURAL HISTORY

Detecting prey by sound, this rodent specialist can plunge into 18 inches of snow to grab mice with pinpoint accuracy. A great gray owl can dive through snow crust thick enough to support the weight of a human.

KEY CHARACTERISTICS

Though significantly smaller than the familiar great horned owl, these owls appear huge because of their 3-inch-thick plumage. Great grays also have a massive facial disk that measures 20 inches in circumference.

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