Where reality and fantasy mix - Part 2/3

Pigwidgeon isn't the only celebrity that lives around here. What about Errol?

 Great Gray Owl by Betty Fisher

Great Gray Owl by Betty Fisher

Errol

Errol, the Weasley family owl, is a Great Grey Owl. Errol is old and clumsy, like many things the Weasley’s own.

Great Grey Owls are the tallest species of owl found in Alberta, but they aren’t the heaviest. They weigh up to 1.7 kg, around half the weight of a Snowy Owl. You wouldn’t know it by looking at them; they appear very large. They stay a little bit further south than the Snowy Owl, and are found year round in the Boreal Forest.

 Great Gray Owl by Gerald Romanchuk 

Great Gray Owl by Gerald Romanchuk 

Identification

While you cannot tell male and female Great Gray Owls apart, this species is very distinct from other owl species. They are very tall and gray, as the name suggests, but with bright yellow eyes and no ear tufts. They have a permanently surprised look on their face, and a very large facial disk (the name for the flat face that owls have compared to other birds).

The facial disk is large for a reason. The Great Gray Owl has the best hearing among the owl species. They frequently hunt mice in winter by hearing them through up to a foot of snow, then pouncing and grabbing the mouse through the snow based on hearing alone! How is that possible?

Like many owls, Great Grey Owls have large asymmetrical ears. This allows them to triangulate and pinpoint the location of prey just with their hearing alone. Great Gray Owls are particularly adept at doing this.

Listen to the Great Gray Owl here.

Where?

 Great Gray Owl range by Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Great Gray Owl range by Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Great Gray Owls live across the world just like the Snowy Owl. In Europe they inhabit areas like Scandinavia and Russia, while in North America they typically live in the boreal forest. They can be found in forests along the edges of open fields or meadows.

The Great Grey Owl is a non-migratory species, so you can find it near Edmonton year round. Edmonton is on the southern edge of its range, so you may have more luck if you travel a little bit to the north or towards the mountains to the west.

Interesting Facts

In the Harry Potter books and movies, Errol is very clumsy. In the wild this is not the case. Owls use their superior hearing and eyesight to precisely locate prey and pounce on them before their prey even know they were coming. However, when Errol flies into windows, that really does happen, but it’s a lot less funny in the real world. Birds cannot see glass well, and may try to fly through it, or else towards the reflection they can see on the glass. In Canada, 16-42 million birds die per year from hitting windows. Try putting decals on your windows, or hanging streamers or garden mesh in front of it to reduce bird mortalities from window strikes. Learn more about the dangers that birds and other wildlife face and what you can do about it here.

Despite their large size Great Gray Owls eat mostly mice and voles.

They will use human made nest platforms.

 Great Gray Owlets by Gerald Romanchuk

Great Gray Owlets by Gerald Romanchuk

Are you ready for Harry Potter Day yet?

Don't forget to keep your eyes and ears open for Errol! See our previous blog for suggestions of how to help improve habitat for owls.


If you’d like to learn more information on owls check out these sites:   

EALT Species Spotlight: Great Horned Owl

EALT Alberta Owls Brochure

Alberta Environment and Parks: Owls

Special font credit to http://www.anke-art.de/