South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Great Gray Owl

Strix nebulosa

Length: 24 to 33 inches Wingspan: 54 to 60 inches Seasonality: Extremely rare winter visitor
ID Keys: Distinctive, with very large size, large facial disks, lack of ear tufts, yellow eyes

Great Gray Owl - Strix nebulosaA bird of northern forests, Great Gray Owls are only an extremely rare winter visitor to the state.    They are one of the largest owls in the state by body size, but body size is slightly misleading as the species has an extremely thick and dense covering of feathers.  Despite the bird's size, they have relatively weak talons and primarily prey on small rodents.  The only record of the species in South Dakota upon publication of 1991 edition of "The Birds of South Dakota" (South Dakota Ornithologist Union, 1991) was a dead specimen found in January, 1984 near Dell Rapids (Bradwisch).  However, in the winter of 1999, Vogelmann found a specimen perched on a dead tree stump in his back yard between Sioux Falls and Brandon.  When vole and other small mammal populations crash in their normal northern haunts, some birds may move southward into parts of the United States in winter.  Large numbers of the species were found in the Sax-Zim Bog region near Duluth, Minnesota in the winter of 2004/2005, and are the source of all of  the photos found on this page

Habitat: Dense conifer forests, adjacent meadows, bogs.  Generally prefers mix of dense forest and open areas.

Diet: Mostly small mammals, including voles, pocket gophers, mice, shrews, squirrels, and weasels.

Behavior: Great Gray Owls will hunt both during the day and night, with a significant portion of its foraging occurring near dawn or dusk.  They can hunt by either sight or sound.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: A bold, deep, booming hoo-hoo-hooo; also utters single-note hoots.

Migration: Permanent resident throughout its normal range in Alaska, Canada, higher elevation areas in the western U.S., and northern Minnesota.  However, population crashes of prey mammal species sometimes result in numbers of the birds moving southward in winter in search of food.

Similar Species: Generally distinctive, but possibly confused with the Barred Owl.

Conservation Status: Possible decline in southern part of its range, but the majority of its range is in areas with little human disturbance.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Great Gray Owl

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Great Gray Owl"

3) eNature.com -- Great Gray Owl

Photo Information: December 13th, 2004 - Near Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Great Gray Owl photos.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Great Gray Owl - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Extremely rare winter visitor in South Dakota, with only a handful of records.