The Great Gray Owl is one of the icons of the world's boreal forests. In 1987 Manitobans adopted this magnificent bird as our Provincial Bird Emblem. One particular Great Gray Owl, Lady Gray'l, together with her friend, Dr. Bob Nero, played a major role in having this species selected.
Follow this link to learn more about Lady Gray'l and the Lady Gray'l Fund for conservation and education.
Manitoba's Provincial Bird Emblem, The Great Gray Owl
An Impressive Bird
The Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) is ranked by birders as number six among the fifty most-wanted birds on the continent. A rare bird, this species has been seen more regularly in parts of Manitoba than elsewhere in Canada. It is thus fitting that on July 16, 1987, by an Act of the Manitoba Legislature, the Great Gray Owl was officially named the Provincial Bird Emblem. Elevation of the status of the Great Gray Owl from unprotected in 1962 to provincial bird emblem in 1987, is in recognition of owls and other birds of prey as a valuable and treasured part of the natural world, and worthy of protection.
(Click thumbnail images for larger views.)
Big, bold and beautiful, the Great Gray Owl attracts attention wherever it is found. This denizen of the northern forest, with a wingspan of 1.5 m (5 ft.), is the largest North American owl, even larger than the heavier Great Horned Owl and Snowy Owl. Male and female Great Gray Owls look alike, but, as is the case for all birds of prey, the female is larger than the male. Males weigh up to 1.2 kg (2.6 Ibs.), females up to 1.8 kg (4 Ibs.). Bright yellow eyes, a lack of ear-tufts or "horns", a broad, round face and conspicuous white chin patches are key identifing features of this species. At night its low, booming "whoo-whoo-whoo ... " may be heard echoing across spruce-tamarack boglands.
(If your browser won't play the background sound file, Click Here to hear the call of the Great Gray Owl.)
Finding An Owl
Great Gray Owls are permanent residents of the mixed-wood and coniferous forests of Manitoba in the extreme southeast and from Riding Mountain National Park north to the treeline. In some winters when Great Grays have difficulty finding food in thick forests, they often look for prey in meadows near settlements and, especially, along roadsides. Hungry owls seem almost fearless of people. The best places to look for them are along roads in or near provincal forests east of Winnipeg and south of Lake Winnipeg, especially on calm, overcast days. Residents of northern communities such as The Pas, Norway House and Thompson can expect to see these birds every winter and occasionally in summer.
A Home For Owls
Black Spruce-Tamarack forests and associated meadows are home to orchids, owls and furbearers of several kinds. One such area 80 km (60 mi.) southeast of Winnipeg within the Sandilands Provincial Forest, has been set aside through a joint forestry-wildlife agreement as the Great Gray Owl Ecologically Significant Area. Much has been learned about the ecology, prey relationships and movements of Great Gray Owls through research on this site by five different graduate students in zoology and natural resource management, working under the auspices of the Department of Natural Resources. In the course of these studies, close to 800 owls have been banded, a large number considering that the first Great Gray Owl ever banded in North America was captured in 1947. Based on 20 years of trapping and banding studies and recorded sightings, it is believed that there may be as many as 1500 to 3000 Great Gray Owls in the province.
Lady Gray'l, a Great Gray Owl that served to educate and entertain many people, died of natural causes on October 13, 2005. This famous owl, taken from a nest as an injured chick in May 1984, was 21 1/2 years old when she died. For her full story, see the book Lady Gray'l, Owl With A Mission by R. Nero.
Along with her handler and friend, Dr. Bob Nero, Lady Gray'l was a frequent visitor to schools, shopping malls, nursing homes and at various conservation programs. Together they educated thousands about conservation. She was the most travelled owl in Manitoba, the most photographed individual bird in North America, and her name is well known beyond our own provincial borders.
It should be noted that Lady Gray'l and Dr. Nero played a major role in having the Great Gray Owl selected as Manitoba's official bird emblem in 1987. And in her memory, the Lady Gray'l Fund has been established at The Winnipeg Foundation.
The Lady Gray'l Fund
The Lady Gray'l Fund will be used to fund research, conservation and education projects directly relating to owls and other wildlife. Please consider making a donation. You can contribute online.
Follow this link to the Winnipeg Foundation website. Click on their "Make an Online Gift" button. Highlight the button for "Search for the fund you wish to contribute to" and enter "Lady Gray'l". Then follow the instructions for making a donation.
A donation to the Lady Gray'l Fund is tax-deductable and would make a great gift for any "birder" or nature lover in your life.
(This picture icon
will take you on a slide show of Lady Gray'l's career.
Watch some video of Lady Gray'l doing her thing for conservation at a Winnipeg mall and in a classroom:
A bird of mystery,
the Great Gray Owl
bears in its aloofness
some of the remoteness
of the vast northland;
the color of lichens
and weathered wood;
its soft hooting,
part of the wind.
For more owl-poetry
by Robert Nero click here:
NatureNorth would like to thank Manitoba Conservation for allowing us to digitally reproduce the brochure: "The Great Gray Owl, Manitoba's Provincial Bird Emblem". (Originally funded by Manitoba Conservation, Cambrian Credit Union and the Manitoba Wildlife Federation.)
We would also like to thank the photographers who allowed us to feature their work on this page: Gordon Court, Robert R. Taylor and Ann Cook. You can see more of Robert's and Ann's work at their web sites:
Header image for this page, "Moonlight Hunter", by Robert R. Taylor. Look for Robert Taylor's book, The Great Gray Owl - On Silent Wings (click thumbnail for book cover).