The Great Gray Owl: Habitat, Origin, and Lifespan


The wet evergreen forests in the far North of Canada also known as the Taiga has been known as the home to these birds. The forests have provided a very favorable environment where the birds can hunt among the meadow trees and in the other open areas with scattered trees. However, in the United States, the birds have been found to reside in the fir and pine forests in California and Oregon. The birds have been discovered to take advantage of the high altitudes ranging from 2500 and 7500 feet, however, during the cold months of the winters, these owls often migrate downslope to the woodlands of Oak situated in the lower altitudes with mixed trees that often shed their leaves and the evergreen forests. This migration has been associated with the harsh montane temperatures on the high altitudes.

The habitats for these birds have not been specified properly, there is very scarce information but the little available information available shows that their likelihood habitats are Montana. Surveys done on the birds indicate that they have been found to mostly use the pine and the fir in Montana, other information regarding habitats for the grey owls have stated clearly that the birds require dense forests and for this reason, the birds live mostly in the dense coniferous and the hardwood forests consisting of pine and spruce located near water bodies. These wet environments provide the birds with very unique conditions to enable them to scavenge for food in the wet meadows and the bogs.

For nesting purposes, these birds have been found to move from the wet areas to find tops of large broken off tree trunks where they locate their nests (this is common in the south) however in the North, these birds often look for other deserted birds’ nests e.g. hawk nests. Franklin (1988) states that in situations where the birds are not able to find suitable habitats, the mistletoe usually near bogs have also provided excellent nests for the birds.


The origin of these birds has not been documented properly but the pieces of evidence from research works, indicate the owls could have existed from the 18th century. Some have even suggested that the owls could be associated with dinosaurs; however, these accounts cannot be relied on as they do not provide accurate information.  The first Great Gray Owl‘s net was discovered in Canada by Andrew Graham in 1772 at Fort Severn in Ontario. Dr. Richardson also discovered some owl nests near the Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The description differentiating the Great Gray Owl from the other owls was given by Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788. John Latham in 1790 published the description of the Great Gray Owl found in the mountains of eastern Siberia subsequently giving it the name Strix barbara; this could have been the origin of the German Great Gray Owl. Publications in Sweden have indicated that the birds could have been shot in the regions as early as 1812. In Finland, the first observation was done in 1846 in Espoo with a subsequent observation in Helsinki in the year 1886 by John Wolley. There have been no clear works to show the clear origin of these birds however the overall understanding of the birds should be the original descriptions and naming of the bird and the initial record of the bird’s nest belongs to Canada.


The Great Gray Owl reaches sexual maturity at the age of 3, at the age of 3 years; the owls can reproduce. The owls have been found to have a lifespan of 12 years while in the wild, however, the lifespan has been found to increase considerably for the owls in captivity with lifespan ranges between 30 or even 40 years. This is evidence of the effects that result from habitat destructions subsequently limiting the bird’s lifespan. Other factors that limit the lifespan of these birds in the wild may result from starvation in the wild.

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