Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Great Gray Experience!!

Great Gray Owls are one of the most majestic birds on the planet, if you ask me, and it wasn't until just this past weekend that I actually got to see one in the wild!
We joined Harold Fisher of Prince Albert (a local raptor bander) for the weekend as we toured around the countryside to find these huge owls as part of an ongoing banding project. For a number of years now raptor banders have been catching and banding Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owls in the boreal forest in an attempt to learn a little bit about these elusive owls.

Harold did not let us down - on our first day we located 4 Great Grays!!

Of these 4 owls we were able to capture 2 Great Gray Owls, plus 1 Northern Hawk Owl - according to Harold this is a good catch in one day! You can drive for hours and hours and not find an owl. Once in the hand, the birds are banded, weighed, measured and photographed. And then quickly released, take a look at Kristen's first time release.

Great Gray Owls hunt primarily small mammals (mice and voles) during the day. You'll notice these owls have very large facial disks (the circular shape around the eyes), which aid in focusing sound into their ears (cup your hand over your ear, you notice you can hear better? This is what the facial disk does). Because of this adaptation Great Grays can hear a mouse below the snow, dive in without ever seeing the mouse and come up with a delicious meal!

While they appear large (they are the largest owl in North America), they are not the heaviest on the continent (Snowy or Great Horned Owls take that prize). Great Gray appear so big because they have so many feather to help keep them warm during the cold winter up north. In the picture below you can see Kristen's hand holding onto the birds legs (the safest way to hold the owl, both for the handler and the owl) - the hand in the glove is actual cold, while the hand tucked up in the owl's feathers are amazingly warm and toasty!

It was amazing to get to see a Great Grey Owl finally! It was even more amazing to get to handle one of these impressive raptors. In the hand, the Great Gray is as docile as a bird can be!

Thanks to Harold, Denise, and Shelley we had a great experience!

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