The Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa)  

by Dr. Sharif Galal
July 26, 2014




The Great Grey Owl is one of the largest and tallest owls in the world it is the second largest after the Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo bubo), and it is Manitoba's provincial bird. 

Because of its feather, it appears huge and bulky but it has relatively long wings, tail and large head. It typically measures 61 to 84 cm in length (24 to 33 in.). It is the largest owl species in North America, but it is just a ball of feathers, the great horned owl is still the heaviest.  The average weight of the grey owl is ranging between 2 to 3 pounds.


Gret Grey Owl by Sharif Galal ©

The Great Grey Owl is known for its still hunting technique in which the bird sits and listens for its prey then swoops down for the kill and snatches the prey with its talons. They tend to fly for short distances and only 6 ft off the ground listening to any movement of its prey thanks to their excellent hearing. They can hear very small rodents even when they move in tunnels beneath snow in the dark.




They can be identified by their round head without ear tufts, big rounded yellow eyes and the large grey body.
Grey owls are known to be very defending when they have owlets in the nest. The female does all of the incubating and the male does all of the hunting. Both will defend the nest if they feel threatened, even defending against animals as large as badgers, coyotes and bears.

On the other hand , the Red-winged Blackbird, (Agelaius phoeniceus), is found in most of North America specially the prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Midwest provinces of the US.


Great Grey wosl in flight with Red-winged blackbird ©

It feeds mainly on seeds and insects. The Red-Winged Blackbird can be very aggressive while defending its territory from other animals and birds. It will attack much larger birds, such as crows, ravens, magpies, birds of prey and owls if they enter. Although they are very few, there are some reported cases of the red-winged blackbird attacking humans who were in the birds territory during mating.


Great Gray owl in flight by Sharif Galal ©

I have seen them several times attacking ravens and hawks but never seen them attacking owls since that day.
I photographed this male great grey owl when he was approaching a red winged black bird`s nest and suddenly, the bird attacked him.



Great Gray owl in flight by Sharif Galal ©



The little bird went ballistic and was very brave and determined to save it`s family. I have never seen something like this in my life. The grey owl flew away trying to save himself from the black bird`s repeated attacks.  The blackbird was a living missile!


Great Grey Owl on post by Sharif Galal ©

In fact I was roaming the prairies around Calgary looking for this kind of owl for almost two years till I got a chance to photograph not only the owl but the whole story. This is one of the most touching moments I have seen during 15 years of photography. How a little bird can turn into an angry monster to the point that he will force an owl which was almost 20 times more in size to run away for its life!!




Dr. Sharif Galal is a medical doctor and a researcher of lung diseases at the University of Calgary. He received his M.D. from Egypt and his specialty degree in diving medicine from Stellenbosch University- South Africa in addition to a Master’s degree in biomedical sciences from university of Calgary.  Apart from medicine and research, Dr. Galal is an amateur underwater photographer, scuba diving instructor and an enthusiastic wildlife and nature advocate. He currently resides in Calgary, Alberta and can be contacted at:



1. Wayne Lynch 2007 .Owls of the United States and Canada: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior   Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition 

2. Bull, E. L. and J. R. Duncan. 1993. Great Gray Owl. The Birds of North America, The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists' Union.


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