Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Great Gray Owls in Northern New York

2017 Great Gray Owl Larry Master PhotoIn most winters great gray owls remain in their great north woods home in Canada, the mountains of the western U.S., northern Europe, and Siberia. But every four years or so, apparently motivated by a shortage of food (primarily voles), many of these owls will move southward in search of food.

In northeastern North America, the owls usually stay just north of the border, apparently finding suitable vole populations in southern Quebec and Ontario, but a handful of individuals will sometimes move further south into northern New York and New England. This is one such winter with a number of great gray owls being reported in southern Quebec, two reports from central Maine, and reports of several great gray owls in northern New York.

Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)

Most recently, 2-3 great gray owls have taken up temporary residence along Robinson Bay Road in Robert Moses State Park near Massena. As is characteristic of great gray owls, they go about their business with no concern for people or automobiles. This can get them into trouble, but happily for them the road is lightly traveled.

Apparently their lack of fear for people derives from not encountering people, at least folks who would do their harm, in their normal north woods habitat. Such tameness allows for wonderful viewing opportunities as the birds go about their hunting activities during daylight hours oblivious to bird and nature enthusiasts who have come from surrounding states and provinces to see these magnificent birds. They are most active in the first hours after dawn and the last hours before sunset.

Some photos of one of the great gray owls at Robert Moses State Park are posted in this folder.

Photo of Great Gray Owl by Larry Master.

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Larry Master lives in Keene and has been photographing wildlife and natural history subjects for more than 60 years. After receiving a PhD at the University of Michigan, Larry spent 20 years with The Nature Conservancy and 6 years with NatureServe, most of that time as the organization’s Chief Zoologist. He oversaw the development of TNC’s and NatureServe’s central zoological databases, and also served on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Larry currently serves on the boards of NatureServe, the Ausable River Association, the Adirondack Explorer, the Northern Forest Atlas Foundation, Northern New York Audubon, and the Adirondack Council, as well as on science advisory groups for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Adirondack Program, the Biodiversity Research Institute’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, and Living with Wolves.

12 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    I hope they understand that the way immigration laws are being enforced now they are going to be deported without a hearing.

  2. Charlie S says:

    Speaking of walls! If Trump the divider does build a wall, which would be a very sad state of affairs and would sink America to a new low, what about the effect it might have on the migration of animals across the border? Is this a legitimate concern? It’s too bad we all can’t just get along.

    • Boreas says:


      I doubt a serious Environmental Impact Study has been done. Even if it has, who would read it? The new head of the EPA?? May as well save the paper.

    • CommunityGuy says:

      It will absolutely harm (divide) an important habitat. It’s designed to impede large mammals. Think wolves, cougars etc. Much of it is next to a major water source in a dry environment, impeding deer and even small mammals.

      Like the “Ban”, a remarkably thoughtless exercise.

  3. drdirt says:

    WOW ,,,.thnx. Magnificent birds!

    • Boreas says:

      They are still being reported on NNYBirds if you want to see them. They won’t likely be around much longer with the snow gone.

  4. Cranberry Bill says:

    Thankyou Larry Master for sharing with us.

  5. Boreas says:

    Today, Larry reported on NNYBirds that he received reports of a Great Grey Owl that has been seen in the Keene vicinity as well.

  6. Wendi Ward says:

    I saw an photographed a great gray owl this evening in Clayton NY, Jefferson County. Who do I report this to? March 23, 2017 at 7:15p or so. Gorgeous owl sitting on a guardrail.

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