Great Grew Owls: Family Life Above the Arctic Circle

The great grey owl is one of the most beautiful and unusual birds in Russia. It is also called the “bearded owl” because of a dark patch below the beak that resembles a small beard. Great grey owls have a long lifespan and have been known to reach the age of 40 in captivity.

Great grey owls are widespread in the forests and northern areas of the Ural Mountains and Russia. These birds usually nest in aspen copses or coniferous trees. They prefer the old taiga with marshes and glades and hunt near their nesting sites throughout the year. If the rodent population is low, they occasionally migrate to another area.

The great grey owl is a bird of prey. It feeds on mice and other small rodents. However, when mice are scarce, great grey owls sometimes hunt squirrels, birds, frogs and big insects. They usually hunt at dawn, dusk and at night. Occasionally, they also hunt during the day, especially in the winter. Great grey owls have great hearing. They can hear a mouse underground or under the snow at a depth of up to 30 centimeters. They swoop down on their prey from a tree branch and catch it with their talons. In the winter, you can sometimes see wing marks on the snow that an owl has left while catching its prey.

Great grey owls make pairs for life. The male hunts and feeds the female and the young. If a human or an animal approaches the nest site, female great grey owls behave aggressively: they click their beak in warning and sometimes may even strike the intruder with their talons. Males are usually less aggressive. If a male owl is near its nest when a human is approaching, the owl will try to remain unnoticed by pulling in its feathers and pressing up against the tree trunk. But if its mate calls for help, the owl will attack the intruder.

The great grey owl is protected in many parts of Russia. Efforts are underway to mitigate the effects of deforestation, human activity (including automobile traffic) and nearby power lines on their survival.