Twycross Zoo Great Grey Owl

Great grey owl

The great grey owl, sometimes known as the ‘Phantom of the North’ is a large elusive owl species found in the northern hemisphere.

This species is found in dense taiga, boreal and mountainous forest regions of North America, northern Europe and northern Asia. They are the tallest owl species on the planet standing at around two foot tall however their large exterior is mainly made up of plumage with many species such as eagle owls actually being heavier than them.

Great Grey Owl side profile

These owls are know to be incredible predators with the ability to hear their prey’s heartbeat through several feet of snow.

Their exceptional sense of hearing come from two traits. One their large face disk acts like a satellite dish focusing any sound down into their ears. Secondly they have asymmetrical ears. This means one ear is higher on one side of the face than the other meaning sound will hit one ear before the other allowing them to pinpoint the direction sound is coming from.

Great grey’s are immensely powerful and their prey isn’t even safe when hiding under many feet of snow.

Great grey owl front on

Great grey owl prey is mainly made up of rodent species such as mice, voles and shrews. These animals create tunnel systems under packed layers of snow in these harsh environments, however the owls can break through hard, densely packed snow. Using their precise hearing they perform ‘snow-dives’. Diving blindly in the snow they can reach through around two feet of snow to capture their prey.

Nest building isn’t something these owls trouble themselves with. Instead they use abandoned nest of other birds as well as broken tops of dead trees.

Twycross Zoo Great Grey Owl

The breeding season commences with males providing females with food to impress them. The female will lay eggs dependent on how much food availability there is. The more food resources the more eggs. While she is incubating the eggs the male will provide the female with food. Once they are hatched the young are dependent on the adult pair for around 6-8 months until they have fledged and can hunt for themselves.

Currently great grey owls conservation status is considered to be of least concern however there are some threats that could affect this species.

Conservationist believe global warming could become a future risk for this species as it will push their range continually north. On top of this these birds are very sensitive to human disturbance and the forestry industry could cause future problems if more forested areas fall under human management.

Key Facts:


Conservation Status: Least Concern

Distribution: Northern Hemisphere

Habitat: Taiga, boreal and mountainous forests.

Diet: Small Mammals and rodents

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