Great grey owl (Strix nebulosa) - local seasonal appearance
with notes on great horned owl, barred owl, snowy owl, screech owl and saw-whet owl

Based on 20 observations in Seymour township, Northumberland county, southeast Ontario, 1999-2021,
including 4 personal observations of the great grey owl and 16 notes on other local sightings of 6 owl species.
Note that, as with the bald eagle, I have compiled more third-party accounts than personal observations,
and hope the composite image speaks to owl occurrence in the township,
subject to the limitations of sparse data over two decades.

All our sparse owl sightings and recorded reports are within or flanking the winter season, from 20 November through to some time in the second or third weeks (08-20) of April. Worse yet, five of 20 reports are just "owl", species unknown.

The great grey owl is an irregular visitor to southeast Ontario, driven presumably by harsh winter weather or food scarcity in its typical northern and northwestern range. This happened in early 2005, with 4 sightings by the writer, 22 January to 17 February. There were numerous reports (only 6 compiled here) that winter, and at least 2 injured owls were treated by local veterinarians.

The great grey owl is "a rare and irregular winter visitor" at Presqu'ile provincial park, roughly 40 km to the south (LaForest, 1993, p.214). Invasions are sporadic, as in the winters of 1978-1979 and 1983-1984. Further occurrences, 1950 onwards, are recountered by Weir (1989, pp.263-264) for the wider Kingston area. A remarkable 34 were noted on Amherst Island between 14 January and 08 April, 1979.

In Peterborough county, to the northwest, the great grey owl was known in the 1820s, but may have fallen prey to idle gunners in the settlement era (Sadler, 1983, p.96 and cover photo). The Breeding Bird Atlases of Ontario (Cadman et al., 1987, pp.210-211; 2007, pp.298-299) affirm that the great grey owl is most common today in the boreal forest, especially east-west across the north shore of Lake Superior. It is seldom seen in a typical year, despite the fact that it is "active during daylight, frequently feeds in open habitat, and is usually quite tame" (Cadman et al., 1987, p.210).

The great horned owl is probably present year-round, but is seldom seen, though it is a memorable bird when seen close-up! Two local instances are noted here, in December 1999 and February 2015. Unlike the great grey owl, the great horned owl breeds widely through southern Ontario, as well as further north and west. It is relatively conspicuous and often heard. Pairs begin to form in mid- to late autumn, and the birds call regularly in late fall and early winter (Cadman et al., 2007, pp.292-293)

Other reported owl sightings include 4 species, namely:

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Figures 1-3. A fine view of a barred owl in Ferris Park on 20 November 2021. The bird is in a leafless sapling overlooking the southwest end of a linear swamp, flanking the southeast margin of the drumlins in the northern section of the park. It was about 2-3 metres off the ground, 25 metres northwest of the Ranney Falls access road, 180 metres southwest of the turn to the Park office and yard. Thanks are due to the helpful couple from Kingston who, on their first visit to Ferris, noted the bird as they walked in and again as they made their exit. I was busy with an informal survey of trails and roads, and walked right past it!

View the 22-year (1999-2021) monthly data summary for the great grey owl & other owl species.


Bent,AC (1938) Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey, Part 2. Hawks, Falcons, Caracaras, Owls. Dover Publications Inc., 1961 reprint of Smithsonian Institution Bull. 170, 482pp. plus 92 plates.

Cadman,MD, Eagles,PFJ and Helleiner,FM (1987) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. Federation of Ontario Naturalists and Long Point Bird Observatory, published by University of Waterloo Press, 617pp.

Cadman,MD, Sutherland,DA, Beck,GG, Lepage,D and Couturier,AR (editors) (2007) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ontario Nature, 706pp.

LaForest,SM (1993) Birds of Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Friends of Presqu'ile Park, Brighton, Ontario / Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 436pp.

Sadler,D (1983) Our Heritage of Birds: Peterborough County in the Kawarthas. Peterborough Field Naturalists / Orchid Press, Peterborough, ON, 192pp.

Weir,RD (1989) Birds of the Kingston Area. Quarry Press, 608pp. plus map.

Graham Wilson, 15-18 March 2021, updates 21-27 November 2021

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