Portrait of a Lapland Owl

Anne-Marie Bokslag

Haarlem, Netherlands

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Artist's Description

Featured in the For the Love of Canon group and
in the Eye Contact group.

The Great Grey Owl or Lapland Owl (Strix nebulosa) is a very large owl, distributed across the Northern Hemisphere.

Adults have a big, rounded head with a grey face and yellow eyes with darker circles around them. The underparts are light with dark streaks; the upper parts are grey with pale bars. This owl does not have ear tufts and has the largest facial disc of any raptor.

In terms of length, the Great Grey Owl rivals the Eurasian Eagle Owl and the Blakiston’s Fish Owl as the world’s largest owl. However, much of its size is deceptive, since this species’ fluffy feathers, long tail and large head obscure a body lighter than that of most other large owls. The length ranges from 61 to 84 cm (24 to 33 in), averaging 72 cm (27 in) for females and 67 cm (26 in) for males. The wingspan can exceed 152 cm (60 in), but averages 142 cm (56 in) for females and 140 cm (55 in) for males. The adult weight ranges from 700 to 1800 grams (1½ to 4 lb), averaging 1290 grams (2 lb 14 oz) for females and 1000 g (2 lb 3 oz) for males. The males are usually smaller than females, as in most owl species.

They breed in North America from Lake Superior to the Pacific coast and Alaska, and from Finland and Estonia across northern Asia. They are permanent residents, but may move south and southeast when food is scarce. A small population, estimated at less than 100 birds, occurs in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. This population is the southernmost population of the species’ range and is listed Endangered under California’s Endangered Species Act.

These birds wait, listen, and watch for prey, then swoop down; they also may fly low through open areas in search of prey. Their large facial disks focus sound, and the asymmetrical placement of their ears assists them in locating prey, because of the lack of light during the late and early hours in which they hunt. On the nesting grounds, they mainly hunt at night and near dawn and dusk; at other times, they are active mostly during the night. They have excellent hearing, and may locate (and then capture) prey moving beneath 60 cm (2 feet) of snow in a series of tunnels solely with that sense. These owls can crash through snow that could support the weight of a 180-pound person[citation needed]. Unlike the more versatile eagle and horned owls, Great Grey Owls rely almost fully upon small rodents, with voles being their most important food source. Locally, alternative prey animals (usually comprising less than 20% of prey intake) include hares, moles, shrews, weasels, thrushes, grouse, Gray Jays, small hawks and ducks. Great Grey Owl juveniles may themselves fall prey to bears, fishers, and large hawks, especially Northern Goshawks; while adults may fall prey to Bubo owls and lynxes.

The call of the adult is a series of very deep, rhythmic whoos, which is usually given in correlation to their territories or in interactions with their offspring. At other times, adults are normally silent. The young may chitter, shriek or hiss.

IUCN Red List least concern species.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Canon Zoom lens EF 100-400mm 1: 4.5-5.6 L IS
Exposure time 1/1600s
Aperture value f/5.6
ISO 200
Focal length 400 mm

Picture made at the Roofvogelboerderij in Berkel en Rodenrijs, The Netherlands

Artwork Comments

  • kathy s gillentine
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  • stephaniek
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  • Pat Moore
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  • Andrew Paranavitana
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