Great Gray Owl Fact File

Strix nebulosa

Credit: Public Domain








Wild 40 years

Captive 40 years



Small Mammals, Birds

Conservation Status


Least Concern

The great gray owl is a species of raptor with a wide range taking in parts of Europe, North America and Asia. They are found in forest habitats.

Great gray owls will hunt for prey using a range of adaptations. Their great hearing allows them to find rodents under the snow and they can effectively capture their prey by swooping on it silently due to the shape of their feathers.

Pairs are considered monogamous and will work together to raise the chicks each year. More chicks are raised in years which the vole population is high.

They are threatened by habitat loss and collision by vehicles.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.


What does the great gray owl look like?

The great gray owl is covered by a thick layer of feathers which help to insulate the body and keep it warm. This gives them ta much larger appearance than their actual size.

Their disc like face may be as wide as 50cm (20in) across. This is an adaptation which helps to give them highly accurate hearing. Their hearing is so good that they are able to hear rodents burrowing under snow.

As their name suggests most of their plumage is gray streaks and bars across a white background. On the facial disc are dark concentric rings which surround the eyes.

Their bill is colored yellow and curved. Beneath it is a small dark patch. Their eyes are colored yellow.

An average great gray owl will measure 59-69cm (23-27in) long with a weight of 0.8-1.7kg (1.75-3.75lbs).Their wingspan is between 137-153 cm (53.9-60.2 in) across. Females are typically larger than males.


What does the great gray owl eat?

The great gray owl is a carnivore. They will feed on a range of small animals including voles, frogs and other birds.

When hunting they will sit on a tree and listen out for prey before diving on to it.

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Credit: Public Domain


Where can you find the great gray owl?

The range of the great gray owl takes in parts of Asia, Europe and North America. Here they occur in the following countries - Belarus; Canada; China; Finland; Kazakhstan; Lithuania; Mongolia; Norway; Russia; Sweden; Ukraine and the United States.

They are occasionally recorded as a vagrant in Germany and Poland.

The species has been declared extinct in Latvia.


What kind of environment does the great gray owl live in?

They are found in forest, shrubland, grassland and wetlands.

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How does the great gray owl produce its young?

Egg laying dates are variable across their range.

The male may feed the female during courtship. They may also preen one another's feathers.

These birds may take over the nest of over birds such as buzzards both in the trees or on the ground.

In to the nest the female will deposit between 3 and 6 white shelled eggs. The clutch size varies based on the availability of food. When voles are plentiful they often have a larger clutch.

Successful pairs will reuse their nest for multiple years.

Their head is able to rotate up to 270 degrees.

Only the female sits on the eggs during the 28-36 day incubation period. The male brings food to her during this time.

Young first leave their nest at between 3 and 4 weeks old. Independence is not achieved until 5 months old. At this point they move away to form their own territory.

Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 4 years old.


What does the great gray owl do with its day?

In flight the great gray owl is silent. This is aided by the light body size and their broad wings.

Their vocalization is best described as a loud, booming hoot. The pitch of the female is higher than that of males.

Unlike most owls they may hunt both during the day and night.

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the great gray owl?

Natural predators of the great gray owl include larger raptors such as the northern goshawk.

The population of the great gray owl is currently increasing. Their total population is currently estimated at around 120,000 individuals. Most of the increase has been in North America while in Europe they are mostly stable.

These animals are threatened through hunting and may fall victim to road collisions. They are also affected by diseases such as West Nile Virus.

Populations of this species will experience falls when numbers of voles decline.

Quick facts

Alternative names for the great gray owl include the cinereous owl, sooty owl, bearded owl or spruce owl.

They are the world's largest owl species by length. Despite this many species outweigh them.

This species is recognized as the provincial bird of Manitoba.

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Credit: Public Domain


BirdLife International. 2021. Strix nebulosaThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T22689118A199144259. Accessed on 28 December 2021.

Audubon. 2021. Great Gray Owl. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021].

2021. GREAT GRAY OWL. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021]. 2021. Great Gray Owl (U.S. National Park Service). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021]. 2021. Great Gray Owl - Montana Field Guide. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021]. 2021. Great Gray Owl - Sierra Forest Legacy. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021]. 2021. Great Gray Owl - Strix nebulosa | Wildlife Journal Junior. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021]. 2021. Great Gray Owl : Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 December 2021].

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