The Great Grey Owl Clings to Survival

The Great Gray Owl is the largest species of owl in North America. It inhabits northern and mountain forests intermixed with patchy small open meadows, swamps and bogs.

The Great Gray is well adapted for forest life in many ways. However, of these adaptations, it’s most striking visual feature is it’s large facial disks, which act in much the same way as a satellite dish. These disks catch, condense and magnify sound made by prey, whether beneath deep snow or moving about the lush forest floor during spring, summer and fall.

Humans have long since lost the ability to detect sounds beyond that of their humblingly-minimal present day capabilities. This is due to a wide variety of causal factors, but the most predominant is that we (the human animal) simply do not require such highly tuned hearing proficiency. We no longer hunt for survival, nor does today’s society necessitate that we be constantly on the alert listening for danger.

Not only have we lost the keen ability to hear as well as other species in the animal kingdom, but additionally, senses such as smell, taste, touch and sight have faltered as well.

Most assuredly what would appear to us as a serene forest at night would be nothing less than a cacophony of sound for the Great Gray Owl and other animal species hidden under a blanket of darkness.

The Gray will lay it’s eggs in the abandoned nests of other birds, or build a nest atop a dead tree which has snapped in two around it’s middle section. These particular nesting sites often occur in swamps where the tree is surrounded by water and affords the Gray and it’s offspring a greater margin of safety than exists on dry land.

Raccoons are, in some areas, a definite threat to eggs or hatchlings, as are Mink, Marten and Fisher (all members of the weasel family). This is another good reason to leave marshes, bogs and wetlands alone, since these Ecosystems unto themselves protect, harbour and attract a dichotomy of wildlife species.

Historically people have often complained that marshes and bogs are nothing more that prime breeding grounds for mosquitos; however this is a shortsighted viewpoint. An old biologist friend of mine once commented that the first law of Ecology states that in Nature everything is connected to everything else. This means that when one thing is removed by unnatural means, a negative chain reaction takes place. Unfortunately though, to this day many still perceive wetlands as worthless Real Estate and move quickly to partially or entirely fill them in.

How many times have you heard the saying, “If you believe that, I’ve got some swamp land I can sell you!” This statement appears to pretty much sum up how we generally feel about wetlands; they are a bit of a nuisance – they get in the way – and goodness knows you can’t build on them. So what value are they?

However, the truth of the matter is, that if we don’t preserve and protect large wetland areas everywhere, we will lose many wildlife species which inhabit them, including the Great Gray Owl, which is currently an endangered species.

In areas where forests, streams and marshes have not been interfered with, the Great Gray will lay eggs (as many as four) at staggered intervals, which produces young of different ages and sizes. During each feeding the largest, most aggressive offspring are fed first. When food is plentiful all young are fed, but if prey is scarce, the older and stronger bird is favoured, since it’s chances for survival are the most promising. This may appear cruel to some, but it is Nature’s way.

If you compare the destruction and suffering Humankind has inflicted on the natural world and its animal inhabitants, Nature itself does not appear to be so cruel.

As in countless other cases, where it’s man versus Nature or animal, the future of the Great Gray Owl rests solely in our hands. It will survive only by man’s consent, and only if we wish it so.


© Copyright 2010 Bill Leeming - All Rights Reserved