‘On the Prowl’…a Great Grey Owl hunt in pictures

TitleBeing able to observe a Great Grey Owl hunting for voles in the foothills west of Calgary has to be one of the great joys one can experience as a birder in southern Alberta. Moreover, no matter how many times I have the privilege to witness these owls in action the thrill of the experience remains undiminished. So in this month’s post, I’m going to try and share some of this experience through my pictures…
After rising early, followed by an 90 minute drive full of hope and anticipation of an owl encounter,  the slow crawl along dusty, gravel roads begins in ‘owl country’: thickly forested areas adjacent to vole-filled meadows. Even with your eyes peeled and driving at 10km/h, the perfect camouflage of the Great Grey (their plumage is a virtual perfect match for a pine trunk) makes spotting them a challenging proposition. You’re in luck though when they help you out by choosing a prominent perch…TH1D4878
The GGO will constantly swivel its head watching, but mostly listening, for voles burrowing under the snow and grass. But not every patch of meadow seems to have the sought-after voles and the owl will often move a short distance…TH1D4795mask
…to a new perch from which to resume the hunt on a, hopefully, more productive stretch of field.TH1D4902
TH1D4919This can go on for some time, the owl spending anywhere a few minutes to half an hour on a perch. Perches might be anything from fence-poles to tree trunks…TH1D4970mask
…to branches high in trees…TH1D4870
…anything that gives a good view of the hunting ground.
Until all of a sudden they seem to ‘lock on’ to a sound and launch into hunting run…TH1D4788
TH1D4790The GGO floats completely silently above the grassy field, eyes intently focused… TH1D5014
…honing in on the target as it gets closer and closer…TH1D5020
…until finally plunging almost straight down with talons being brought forward at seemingly the very last moment on the unsuspecting vole…TH1D4887d&b
If successful, the owl will spend a few moments with its talons buried in the grass or snow performing a sort of shuffle as it gets a surer grip on the prey. A quick bite to the neck ends any resistance from the vole, and then the GGO takes off – vole in beak…TH1D4996
…to consume (or share with its mate or young) the unlucky rodent elsewhere, often deep in the depths of the forest…TH1D5055
The hunts I’ve seen are successful maybe 30-50% of the time, and it never ceases to amaze me how incredible the GGO’s sense of hearing must be for them to detect such tiny prey, from such distance, under anywhere up to a foot of snow!TH1D4774crop
TH1D4843Well, I hope I’ve conveyed some sense of what a GGO hunt is like – for sure, no hunt is the same but each and every one is always great fun to watch!TH1D4835
(Please note that these shots were taken on two separate days, with two different owls – I’m just not a good enough photographer to capture all the action in one sharp sequence 🙂  ).
For more of my wildlife photography check out my facebook page here.
This entry was posted in Bird Canada. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to ‘On the Prowl’…a Great Grey Owl hunt in pictures

  1. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks, Gilda! Sharing most welcome 🙂

  2. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks Tammie. I have my fingers crossed for you as well 🙂

  3. Gilda Blackmore says:

    Fantastic! I hope you don’t mind if I “Share”

  4. Tammie says:

    Excellent, Tim!! I’m always hopeful to catch the call of a GGO on our annual owl survey but so far, we’ve only heard 1 and that was from a great distance. Fingers crossed again for this year.

  5. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks Sharon! Cheers, Tim.

  6. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thank you, Scott! ‘Awe’ is indeed a great way to describe how I feel as well.

  7. Tim Hopwood says:

    That’s great to hear, Leeann. You’re very welcome 🙂

  8. Sharon says:

    Loved this! Thanks so much.

  9. Scott says:

    Thanks for the terrific post, Tim. I am always awed when I have the good fortune to encounter a Great Gray Owl. Your dedicated search and talent as a photographer paid off handsomely with this series of photos.Cheers.

  10. Leeann says:

    This was awesome! Thank you!