This is the story of the Winter the Great Grey Owl moved into southern Ontario, Canada in search of food. It talks about the dangers it faced along the highways, the rareness of the sightings so far south of the tree line.

The Year of the Great Grey Owl

In the winter of 2005, the Great Grey OWI was spotted in many parts of south central Ontario, far south of their native habitat – the boreal forests along the tree line at the edge of the arctic circle. It was believed their food source in the north dropped suddenly and these majestic birds of prey were forced south in search of it. Unused to automobiles, trucks and man in general, they were being killed and injured on the highways.

These beautiful predators hail from such isolated areas, some have never seen humans before and never had a reason to fear us. The owls would perch high on treetops or low on boundary fences on farms with the bright sunlight reflecting on the snow-covered fields. A person could stand within a few feet of the bird before it would slowly open its wings and hop into the air, soundless and graceful.

The main diet for the Great Grey Owl are the voles that hide in the field stubble under the snow. This bird has very sensitive ears that detect the slightest sound of movement along the ground. The ow can withstand even the harshest winter in the far north. But as they moved south that year, those sensitive ears did them an injustice. They honed in on highway corridors. In the winter of 2005, they were confused, hungry and stressed. At least ten great grey owls were taken into refuge centers to receive treatment for injuries. Some didn’t survive.

Great Grey Owls are the largest birds of prey with a wing span of up to 60 inches. They are patient birds when hunting. They wait, watch and listen for very long periods of time before swooping in for the kill.

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