BOB’S BLOG: Bird of the Month is the Great Gray Owl
Photo above: Ross Wood photographed this Great Gray Owl in Algonquin Park in early February.
My son Ross Wood saw and photographed a Great Gray Owl in Algonquin Park last week.
This event, then, has provided me with the impetus to declare this particular species Bob’s Blog’s first Bird of the Month.
I’m not an expert on birds, that’s for sure, but I’ve long had an appreciation for what they are up against in coping with our harsh Canadian climate and dealing with other challenges we’ve thrown at them.
The Great Gray Owl is a bird of the boreal forest, so it is unlikely that most FYI readers would routinely encounter it.
In the winter of ‘04-‘05 the vole population in Northern Ontario crashed and many Great Gray Owls came south. When this happened the owls weren’t particularly hard to find as they could be observed at dusk perched on fences looking for dinner.
The Great Gray Owl is a large owl with a big, round head and bright yellow eyes. It is the largest Western Hemisphere owl in length although not in weight. Mark Peck’s Royal Ontario Museum Species at Risk website notes that rather than building its own nest the Great Gray Owl will use abandoned nests of other large birds or squirrels. “The Great Gray Owl is a diurnal predator (active during the day), and it uses its excellent vision and hearing to find voles and other small mammals,” according to the ROM’s website.
The GGOW was listed as a species of concern on the Ontario Species at Risk list. Apparently, it is doing better now although there are concerns about the impact of logging, clear cutting, and mining operations on its habitat.
Regular readers may have seen my story on a family trip to Algonquin. At least one pair of Great Gray Owls has apparently moved south permanently and is now nesting in Algonquin Park. We went looking for them on our November outing but with no success.
This week’s sighting by Ross was in the Opeongo Road area. The weekly reports from Algonquin documented a pair in the area on Feb. 10 but sadly a dead one, killed by a car, was found at kilometre 38 on Feb. 9.
It remains to be seen if this species southerly move will be successful in the long term.
Bob Wood is a housing and poverty advocate and former two-term Burlington City Councillor who is building a bed-and-breakfast with his wife on Lake Erie.