Sunday, January 1, 2012

Great Gray Owl

 Photo: Dane Adams

What may be North America's biggest celebrity owl glares balefully at the camera. This Great Gray Owl, Strix nebulosa, turned up near Kingsville, Ontario, Canada on December 23rd. Only very rarely does one of these giant killer puffballs turn up in the southern Great Lakes region - Kingsville is just west of Point Pelee and only some 20 miles north of the Ohio border, on the other side of Lake Erie.

Lots of people have made the trip to see this charismatic owl, photographer Dane Adams among them. Dane sent along a few of his characteristically excellent photos, and allowed me to post them here.

As an aside, Ohio has only two confirmed records of this boreal hooter, the last of which dates to 1947 on a tiny Lake Erie islet dubbed Starve Island. Legendary Ohio ornithologist and bird collector Milton B. Trautman made the observation as he boated from his home on South Bass Island in Lake Erie on a late October day. Starve Island is about 25 miles south of where the Kingsville owl is being seen. That'd be something if this owl decided to island hop into Ohio waters. If it ends up on one of our islands, ferry ticket sales will spike big time, I'll tell you that!

Photo: Dane Adams

As they usually are, this Great Gray Owl is quite tame, and getting good looks presents no problems. Unfortunately, when Great Grays venture this far south, and are active during the day, it sometimes means they are starved and desperate for food. But it should also be noted that owls that breed in the northernmost reaches of the boreal forest belt are often diurnally active during the short days of winter, and excessive tameness and daylight activity do not necessarily mean that the owl is unhealthy. Hopefully this one will fare well and eventually make its way back to its northern haunts.

Great Gray Owls look utterly massive, and they are in terms of physical dimensions. This bird is over two feet in length and its outstretched wings span 4 1/2 feet. That's noticeably larger than a Great Horned Owl. But, the Great Gray Owl only weighs about 2/3rds of the Great Horned, or about the same as The Sibley Guide to Birds.

As would be expected, the Kingsville owl is garnering lots of attention, and not just from birders. CLICK HERE for an article in The Windsor Star about the bird. Be sure and read the comments following the article for a taste of some of the people-related issues that have arisen. Much more in the way of flaming comments have come out on various listservs such as THIS ONE. Some of what is being said is certainly factual, other bits are definitely exaggerated, but the bottom line is everyone should give the owl its space and put the bird's welfare first.

I greatly admire and respect the work of photographers such as Dane Adams, who provided these photos. He and most other lensmen that I know do not harass their subjects, nor do they interfere with birders or other interested people who may also be present. And the results of their work bring the beauty and magic of birds to legions of people who might otherwise never see these species. Frankly, I'm also a little jealous of their 600 or 800 mm lens which allow them to knock off gorgeous shots from afar!

Thanks as always to Dane for sharing his wonderful work.


Susan Hemann said...

Stunning owl photo's!

Lilac Haven said...

I'm so jealous. This owl is top on my list to see someday. Thanks for sharing.

OPShots1 said...

Thanks for the piece on this now notorious bird. I too, was concerned when I first saw some shots of this bird and its close proximity to the roadway, but it wasn't the roadway that concerned was the view of all the people so very close to it that had me worried. I'm heartened to read some of the first-hand reports that seem to imply that the owl doesn't appear to be too bothered by all the attention, but one does have to wonder. As long as it's happy, healthy, and hunting, I guess no harm done, but I do agree that we should be giving it the space to do what it needs to do without undue stress. From some of the pictures I've seen, I wonder how that's possible? I'm sure that the "real" birders are respectful, but it's the general public I'm worried about!
How cool would it be if one did decide to hop the islands down to Ohio? I'm sure I would have to take a look myself...from a respectful distance, of course!

Anonymous said...

I almost got hit in the face by one of these about 3 years ago in bowling green ohio. I was attending bowling green state university and as I walked out of my dorm and stepped around a corner I was face to face with a flying owl nearly two feet tall. And trust me, he looked just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. I screamed just as he flew over my head and landed in a nearby tree. Of course my shriek caused lots of people to look at me just as he was no longer in their sight, so I just looked crazy. But it was definitely one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me. Especially since it was about 12:15pm.