Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)

large grey and white owl staring straight into the camera from his perch in a gnarled pine tree

Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Most people have probably heard of the Great Horned Owl, but have you ever heard of the Great Grey Owl? Great Grey Owls (Strix nebulosa) are less common in the GYE than Great Horned Owls, but they still inhabit the area so if you see them it is a treat! Compared to other owl species, Great Grey Owls are quite large; their wingspan reaches 5 ft in length, but they only weigh about 2-3 pounds. Novice birders can identify Great Grey Owls from other owls in the GYE because their face is surrounded by a large darker colored ring with a distinct “X” shape between their eyes. They have white, grey, and brown feather patterns with yellow eyes.

Great Grey Owls prefer mountainous areas with pine and fir forests that are usually 2,500-7,500 feet in elevation. Jackson Hole photographer and author, Daryl Hunter, suggests looking in trees around Spalding Bay Road, Moose/Wilson Road, and Spring Gulch Road by the Gros Ventre River for Great Grey Owls. If you are near a meadow or a clearing at dawn or dusk, you will have even greater luck seeing these guys roaming the treetops. They like open areas surrounded by trees because they will swoop down low with their silent feathers to grab small mammals in clearings, while being able to perch on trees as needed. Great Grey Owls are skilled at hunting small prey because their ears are in different spots. Uneven ear heights allow owls to hear sounds at different times which helps them locate prey accurately—they can hear and pinpoint tiny animals under snow!

Written by Celia Karim
PC: Anne Guzzo