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The Ghost of the Forest

Updated: Feb 2

We have had a resident Barred owl (Strix varia) with us for some time here at the nature centre. We named him/her Berty the Barred Owl. A few evenings ago, we had a visitor perch on a feeding post, about 10' from our living room window, and much to the writer's chagrin, we assumed it was Berty. But lo and behold Bob Bowles saw our live feed on Facebook and informed us we had just seen and videoed the rarely seen Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa), nickname, the Ghost of the Forest. Sightings this winter have been very rare in the south, in Ontario, making this a remarkable owl visit.

Great Grey Owl


Barred Owl


Worldwide, the Great Grey Owl is considered the largest owl by length. The female is slightly larger in length averaging 27", the male approximately 26". They are silvery gray all over with brown and gray streaks, with small, bright yellow eyes. Their wingspan can spread out over 5' and their light weight makes it easy for them to glide slowly over meadows looking and listening for their next meal. Their hearing is extraordinary. They have asymmetrical ear openings which allow sound waves (like a vole or mouse running across a meadow) to arrive at slightly different times. The left ear opening is higher on the head, compared to the right opening enabling the owl to pin down the exact location of the moving animal.

Its primary call is a soft, low-pitched hoot "whooo-ooo-ooo-ooo repeated 10 or more times. If it is a territorial call the hoot is repeated every 15-30 seconds. A single hoot is given when the pair are near the nest. If the Great Grey feels threatened he/she will snap its beak, spread its wings and even growl.

Great Greys do not build new nests, using old abandoned nests or large cavities in trees roughly 10-50' off the ground. Nesting occurs from March to May. The female lays 2-5 eggs depending on the abundance of food in the area, incubating the eggs for four weeks. The male hunts for food, bringing it back to the female for feeding. The female remains at the nest guarding the owlets.


Great Grey Owls are elusive and rare in the south. It was either a streak of luck, an honour, or a gift, to have a Great Grey stop by the Nature Centre while hunting for voles. During my research of the Great Grey I stumbled upon 'Animal Symbolism' and read "Unlike any other animal symbol, they relay truth, understanding, patience and wisdom to us when we need it most." During these challenging and unsettling times it seems to be a perfect message.


We hope you will get a chance to see an owl in the wild, in its natural environment during your walks in nature. Here is the link to our live feed on Facebook.





FYI - Some Fun Facts

  • The Great Grey Owl has been identified as a priority for conservation and stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.

  • The Great Grey Owl is also the provincial bird emblem for Manitoba, Canada.

  • Ontario's provincial bird emblem is the Common Loon.














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