Great gray owl (Strix nebulosa )
Photo illustration: Canadian Geographic; Photo: jok2000 / Wikicommons
This large grey owl has a round head (with no ear tufts), yellow eyes and a black-and-white "bow tie" under its face. Its dense, fluffy grey plumage is covered with brown and white bars and flecks. The great gray owl ranges in coniferous forests from Alaska to western Quebec.
*Provincial bird of Manitoba
Vote for the Great gray owl for Canada’s National Bird
Comments and essays appear in the language in which they were submitted
Graceful and efficient inspiration
The great gray owl is seldom seen. Silent flier, it haunts that most boreal of landscapes, the black spruce bog. It wears its common name like a cloak; somehow the Latin binomial, Strix nebulosa, strikes nearer the mark.
Unlike many of its order, S. nebulosa is abroad at all hours. By night it mimics shadow, by day it all but disappears. Its patterns overlap, each plume translucent, the illusion layers deep. Beyond the yellow eye, the knife-edged bill, little about it comes clear.
Don't picture it cat-sized, a storybook owl. Imagine instead the height of a husky, a wingspan to rival your own. Much of this is show. Cross-sections reveal the truth: inside the bulk there hunkers a compact pilot, a puppeteer's skilful hand. This explains the manoeuvres, the great shade threading through close-ranked, twilit trees.
Its killing swoop is a wonder. S. nebulosa is a watcher, a listener. Under feet of snow, a lone vole trundles, pausing to scratch for seed. The great gray tenses, and then separates from its perch. Perhaps you've chanced upon the aftermath: beads of rodent blood on the whiteness, a perfect impression of wings. It's as close as you're likely to get. Most of us, be we urban or rural, native or new, will never set eyes on a great gray.
All the same, it remains a bird worthy of our regard. In honouring the elusive S. nebulosa, we too might learn to take what we need with grace and efficiency, to navigate through space in the knowledge that we are both great and small. Best of all, we might learn to pay attention. Imagine it, Canada, all of us listening. All of us keeping watch over this vast and vulnerable land, bringing our quietest minds, our keenest perception to bear.
— Submitted on Monday, December 15, 2014 by Alissa York
Alissa York is the author of three novels, the most recent of which is Fauna. Her next, The Naturalist, will be published by Random House Canada in 2016. She lives in Toronto.
This very majestic bird is one of few, at top of the raptor food chain. It doesn't brag too much.(CDN eh?) Is most often silent, however, when it soars over you at 20 ft. while walking down your bush road, you will never forget it's presence.
The soft whispering whoosh of it's large wingspan as the air is barely disturbed by it's smooth and faultless flight....priceless.
Nor will you forget it's haunting calls in the quiet dusk of the day, after the squirrels & all other birds have just retired.
If you are really fortunate, as I have been, your ears will witness the calls of other Grays, (I've counted as many as 5 in one evening), as if staking out with their long range hoots, their intended hunting areas and/or territories.
Their range appears to be only Canada in this hemisphere, giving us almost exclusive blessings of their presence.(unlike the Loosey Goosey Canada Geese.)
The world already recognizes an Owl as a symbol of wisdom. That fact as well, seems to mesh with Canada's exemplary reputation on the planet.
All in all,I feel the Great Gray Owl would make a very wise & envious choice for our National Bird.
Who knows, with the Great Gray as our National Bird, more & more Canadians might actually give a hoot, about our wonderfully huge, diverse, majestic and Beautiful Home we call CANADA!
H.Wm.Tuck is an experienced & avid outdoorsman with a love, respect & wonderment for all creatures & nature, big & small!
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Henry Wm. Tuck
Though many of the other birds are very Canadian, the great gray owl personifies Canada to me. A large sentinel in the North, ever watching. Strong, bold, fierce, yet delicate and intelligent. The great gray owl patrols the northern boreal forests, like our soldiers, like our own human guardians. Never being loud and boisterous like other birds (nations), the great gray sits amongst boundless nature and accomplishes much that is never boasted.
And then add to it how the world's first celebrity environmentalist had adopted the very name of the bird, Gray Owl. Canada is as intertwined with Archie Belaney and his story as the great gray owl is to the northern woods. Now add how inter-dependent the great gray is to the boreal forest of Canada - one of the largest ecosystems in the world - and you can quickly see the importance of such a bird to our nation's identity.
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 by Caleb Musgrave
We are fortunate, in Canada, to be home to so many amazing and diverse species of birds! The number and variety are almost a better symbol of our country’s vast size and multicultural identity than any single bird could be. However, if forced to pick, my heart goes out to the Great Gray Owl. The Great Gray captured my imagination since I first learned and saw pictures of it in elementary school. A few years ago I was fortunate to see one in person on one snowing afternoon on my way home from work. The Great Gray was perched on a tree on the edge of a field near the Ottawa river; a large number were in the area that year, driven south in greater numbers due to a prey shortage further north. Even from a distance, the size of the bird was awe-inspiring. Sighting the Great Gray Owl was special and rare, but also like seeing a familiar old friend. I look forward to seeing him again someday.
The Great Gray Owl is nearly only found in Canada. I feel it is important that our national symbol be exclusively Canadian. Our great country is vast in size, a quality the Great Gray Owl represents well. Perched on bare winter branch, the Great Gray owl is alert and observing with wise yellow eyes, but easily overlooked with its grey and white plumage disappearing into the bark and snow. For me, this quiet, steady, and stately presence of the Great Gray Owl makes it a fitting symbol for Canada.
— Submitted on Tuesday, April 5, 2016 by Valancy Reynolds
big, wise, calm, quiet, not obnoxious, widespread across Canada, yet tough and strong... like Canada and canadians
— Submitted on Monday, June 15, 2015 by Martin Grajczyk
(Moose Jaw, SK)
I like owls because they look like they are on MDMA all the time!
— Submitted on Sunday, May 31, 2015 by Emma Kauffman
I'm partial to the Strix Nebulosa because I once had a lovely conversation with one. He was very polite and quite concerned with the current state of local politics.
— Submitted on Monday, April 13, 2015 by Michael Borthwick
Great Gray Owl
By Riley Doleman
What I didn’t know is that Canada has no national bird, so I think it’s time we choose one. The Great Grey Owl should be the national bird of Canada!
Everyone in Canada is good with snow, which includes the Great Grey Owl. They can hear through snow and can plunge through it too. Just like us Canadians.
The Great Grey Owl also looks good. Canadians all dress well and so does this owl. For example he is always wearing a classy bowtie.
The national bird should be an important bird and that’s the Great Grey Owl. It is the biggest owl in North America and surely that’s important.
As you can see the Great Grey Owl is much like us. We’re good with snow, classy and most significantly we are very important. So those are the reasons why I think the Great Grey Owl should represent Canada as the national bird.
— Submitted on Thursday, March 26, 2015 by Riley Doleman
Majestic, cool hunting technique and represented across Canada but not much in USA
— Submitted on Sunday, February 22, 2015 by Larry Roy
La chouette Lapone est la plus grosse chouette du Québec et c'est une espèce magnifique! Elle n'est pas assez connue à mon avis!
— Submitted on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 by Karine Bernier
I think the great grey owl should be Canada's national bird because its range is nearly exclusively in Canada. This is its home. I do not want a bird that is all over the world, like the raven, to be our national bird. I have never seen a great grey owl except in images. I understand they are indeed a rare sight, but if you want to see one, you have to come to Canada.
— Submitted on Saturday, February 14, 2015 by Deborah McPhee
Owl is such a unique bird in the world that they can turn their head 360 degrees. They are so lovely yet powerful, like Canada.
— Submitted on Friday, February 13, 2015 by Louis Leung
Cet oiseau est aussi beau l'hiver que l'été
— Submitted on Thursday, February 12, 2015 by Jean-Guy Lacoursière
One of first times I saw a great gray owl, I was working in the remote wilderness of northern Ontario. We had been walking around for hours in the thick tangle of woods and fighting our way through densely spaced spruce trees. Finally up ahead we spied an opening. We pushed forward towards this opening with the hope of easier walking. While pushing through the last of the trees and shrubbery we came out into a large open wetland area. We were so happy to have a break from the tough sloughing through the trees that we decided to have a break. Upon sitting down our eyes caught some movement to the south of us. We put our binoculars up to our eyes and were amazed at what we saw. A large great gray owl was hunting at the edge of the large wetland. It was flying low along the wetland its wings completely silent and its bright yellow eyes flashing towards the ground searching for something unseen. As we watched, the owl slowly came closer and closer until we could see its full amazing size and almost feel the movement of air from its large wingspan. That moment of seeing such a beautiful creature so far into the wild wilderness of Canada is etched in my mind and will always stay with me. I wish I could share that moment with everyone else in Canada and if so I beleive that the great gray owl would easily become Canada's national bird.
— Submitted on Sunday, February 8, 2015 by Tanya Seebacher
I think the Great Gray Owl would be the best choice to represent Canada. it is a wise, cautious bird that stands vigil while we sleep. Its large, wide wings hold us and make us feel safe and it has the beak to use when the need arises.
I also think it is important to pick a bird that is able to be seen nation-wide. the Great Gray Owl fits just that calling any where you go in Canada you can see of these lovely birds looking on. Living in boreal forests and it stays with us year round. Unlike that "Canadian" goose who fly off the minute the weather gets cold. Decidedly Un-Canadian if you ask me.
In closing, I Would like to say that The Great Gray Owl is the true Canadian bird. Hardy, smart, and loves the snow. So choose The Owl who stands on guard for thee.
— Submitted on Sunday, February 8, 2015 by Mitch Love
The Great Gray Owl best represents Canada with it's majestic and regal look that portrays the way all people of the world see as Canadian both in its people and the beauty of the wild places of our country from sea to sea to sea!
— Submitted on Sunday, February 8, 2015 by John Heitman
(Sherwood Park, AB)
Personnellement j'aurais voté pour la chouette épervière parce qu'elle se retrouve à travers le Canada d'un océan à l'autre. Je trouve que le comportement tranquille et observateur de la chouette représente bien la personnalité des Canadadiens et de la perception que les autres pays ont du Canada. De plus, on peut l'observer le plus souvent haut perché sur un épinette qui est un arbre représentatif au Canada. Donc, pour cette raison je vote tout de même pour la chouette lapone que l'on retrouve dans presque toutes les provinces... sauf au Québec!
— Submitted on Saturday, February 7, 2015 by Danielle Claing
We are "The North". No bird represents the NORTH with the same kind of quiet dignity and power that the Great Gray Owl does.
— Submitted on Friday, February 6, 2015 by Harv Lane
Great Grey Owl
Canada currently doesn’t have a national bird and that needs to change. I think the perfect candidate is the Great Grey Owl. The Great Grey Owl should be Canada’s official bird because it lives mostly in Canada; it’s a noble looking bird, and its innovative shaped eggs.
The Great Grey Owl lives mostly in the forests of Canada beside meadows and bogs to catch rodents. When you think of Canada you think of the forest the mountains and the meadows, the Great Grey Owl would represent those places perfectly.
The Great Grey Owl is the biggest of owls in Canada. It is beautiful with plumage of grey, white and sometimes brown feathers. They look very noble which is a reflection of Canadians. They also have a distinct bow tie looking quality of feathers under their chin. The Great Grey Owls have a huge feather coat on all the time that reminds me of the big fluffy coats Canadians wear in wither.
These owl’s eggs have adapted to the nesting habitat they are born in that is mostly always flat so that the eggs do not roll. Canada is made up of people who have migrated from somewhere else in the world, and these people have had to adapt to the icy cold winters and the isolation on living in their new habitat.
The Great Grey Owl is very similar to the people of Canada. It would represent us absolutely. I would be proud to say the Great Grey Owl is my national bird of Canada.
— Submitted on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 by Iuliana Banack Tapia
Head cocked, wide-eyed and staring at you from a branch, the great gray owl, or strix nebulosa ponders your intrusion into his domain. Rarely seen, this beautiful bird makes its home int he back country. The same country we Canadians partake in fishing and hunting. What bird better to watch our endeavors from a lofty flag as well as a tree branch
— Submitted on Friday, January 30, 2015 by Rich Leigh
(Sault Ste Marie, ON)
Ce hibou passe toute l'année au Canada (contrairement aux autres choix). Il est silencieux et majestueux.
— Submitted on Friday, January 30, 2015 by Cécile Dufault Reykdal
I was honored to be able to hold one of these beautiful, noble birds on my arm (on a leather glove of course). It was absolutely amazing and something I will never forget. She was beautiful. Allie was her name. This was in Wales (UK) at an Owl Retreat.
I can think of no bird to better serve as Canada's National!
— Submitted on Thursday, January 29, 2015 by Sandi Seidle
I had never seen a Great Grey Owl until I found one freshly killed by a vehicle on the highway near Destruction Bay, Yukon in late October, 2014. I had the bird mounted in Vancouver and flew down from Whitehorse in mid December to bring it back to Whitehorse where I live. It is a very beautiful bird and I would like to cast my vote for the GGO as Canada's national bird.
— Submitted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 by Noel Kenny
The great grey owl, is seen throughout Canada as a beautiful, powerful, resiliant graceful ,raptor, that is seen in early evening until dawn, I hear it's who, who, every evening while I first lay in bed. I would love to see such a beautiful creature be our National Bird. The owl to me stands for, Beauty, as I see the country of Canada, Resiliant, as our struggles take place, we bounce back with resiliance, powerful, as our mighty Country is, and graceful as are the people of Canada.
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Parsla Pudwell
I say the great Gray owl should be the bird to represent our country, because the owl is often a symbol of wisdom and intelligence. This will help show Canada is a country, of reason, intelligence and wisdom.
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Andy Slaughter
The Great Gray Owl is one of the very few truly Canadian birds.
Spending all seasons in Canada and making it's home right across our vast country from coast to coast. How much more Canadian can you get!
This Canadian citizen - born, bred and wintered on Canadian soil/sky - deserves to be celebrated as our Official "National Bird of Canada".
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Lori Lafreniere
Canada's National Bird must be a bird that resides in our Country year round. The Great Gray Owl does so, is well known, and represents wisdom and strength.
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Maritta Renz
(Alberta Beach, AB)
Agree that name should be Grey - rather than Gray.
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Eleanor Thomson
(King Twp, ON)
This magnificent, reclusive, wise and effective hunter in Canada's most characteristic ecosystem (the spruce forest of the Canadian Shield) embodies what I like to think the rest of the world thinks of Canadians.
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Bruce Hatcher
The great grey owl is awesome
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Emma Dubblestyne
The most remarkable bird (along with the snowy owl and loons). Says Canda to me and incredibly striking since Lansdowne and Livingston painted them way back...
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Kenneth Wagner
Simply majestic wild and free...
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Sarah Wyllie
Beautiful, mysterious and Patriotic!
— Submitted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 by Tamara Mullen
(New Hamburg, ON)
We believe owls are majestic and have a large body and presence.
Great greys live in our area and are not easy to find but always a such a thrill to find and photograph
We watched one in elk lake park wait on his prey so patiently until he was sure he could get his muskrat out of an icy pond
They are planners and think things through before the execute a plan
We love all birds and owls especially
— Submitted on Monday, January 26, 2015 by Heather McVittie
J'aime beaucoup cette oiseau
— Submitted on Sunday, January 25, 2015 by Jacques Demers
Great Gray Owls have the largest facial discs of all birds. This would be a great feature for Canada's national bird to have.
— Submitted on Saturday, January 24, 2015 by Rena Levi
I sense that the great grey owl is for us canadians, eh.
I had been wanting to see one for awhile, then there, on a fence post in the peace river country near BC..
I knew it immediately from pictures. It remained silent, peaceably present, meditative one might exclaim.
And so i became also…... and grateful to the living wild for that moment's reprieve from mentality.
— Submitted on Saturday, January 24, 2015 by Dwain Foster
The Great Grey Owl is calm, stoic, and magnificent. Like Canada!
— Submitted on Saturday, January 24, 2015 by Amanda Joynt
I vote for this bird as a stand in for all the birds that live , inhabit, migrate and exist in 'our' realm. They live in a realm above us that is their own and one we cannot know. The idea of a 'National Bird' seems outdated in the world as we now understand it. All the birds that sustain themselves in this part of the planet that we are responsible for deserve to be considered our 'National Birds'. Perhaps we could have rotating National Birds. We seem to be just at the beginning to an understanding of what they are all about. Lets hope we can maintain their world long enough to get to a deeper understanding of them.
Yet this is worthy .... This - the Great Grey Owl, is a fiercely awesome creature. That we do not know more of it's capabilities and it's life, is an indicator of it's stealth and it's rarity. The Great Grey is a huge raptor of the wild north and a magnificent being that exists beyond us, outside of us and our earth bound cares. It comes from a long lost ancient place in the 'new world' and we need to take mind of it, even as it eludes us. May it hunt in it's own realm forever.
— Submitted on Saturday, January 24, 2015 by Liza Quinn
They are so wise and majestic to see sitting perched on some snag looking at you with their yellow eyes. The deep whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo is an amazing sound to hear. I have seen a baby owlet who hissed at me as I stood some distance away! It is really something to see them fly with their huge wingspan and slow wingbeats. They are truly a beautiful bird!
— Submitted on Friday, January 23, 2015 by Ivy Dillon
I've seen the Great Gray Owl in a few different provinces. I think the national bird should be a species that is seen across most of the country.
— Submitted on Friday, January 23, 2015 by Andrea Wood
The Great Grey Owl is the largest owl in the world by length, its a good hunter, and has excellent hearing.
I think the Phantom Of The North would be a great national bird for Canada, it likes cold climates, boreal forest, and thick timber. The Great Owl will hang around for the winter, and can hunt by hearing alone, small rodents are 80% of their diet, and they have a wingspan up to 60 inches, about the length of a standard Canadian Flag.
— Submitted on Friday, January 23, 2015 by Chris Gale
(Fort Nelson, BC)
Ten years ago Great Grey Owls were in my area due to shortage of food “up north”, absolutely magnificent creatures! I saw them every day perched in trees beside a country road bordered by fields. At one point I pulled over and took a picture, the owl did not move at all but just looked at me, not afraid. He or she was still in the tree when I left. Every day morning and evening they were there, it was almost as if they were “at their post”! Another time I was walking with my dog in the woods and realized that we’d passed a tree that contained a Great Grey Owl, it just looked down at us and was not afraid.
On another note, I think that the spelling of the Great Grey Owl should be GREY, not GRAY which is American — if this is going to be the National Bird, then at least the spelling should be Canadian!
— Submitted on Friday, January 23, 2015 by P. Ramsay
The owl is a fascinating, strong, powerful bird. I am in awe of all of the raptors but especially the owl, and while I have only briefly, on a dark summer night on a local back-road, seen a great gray, I have NEVER forgotten it. I wanted to sit and watch it until the sun came up but alas, it flew away into the night.
My bucket list demands that one day I cross paths with this majestic bird again.
What a perfect representation of our country, Canada, proud, strong and free.
— Submitted on Friday, January 23, 2015 by Patricia Dietz
Have had a few surreal encounters in the wild with this big and beautiful owl. And have been inspired enough to tattoo its likeness on my back.
— Submitted on Thursday, January 22, 2015 by Johnny Dogma
La chouette lapone a tellement une grande envergure, elle touche au Pacifique avec un bout d'aile et à l'Atlantique avec l'autre!
— Submitted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 by Simon Paradis
These are amazing birds that I've been lucky enough to have seen in the wild a few times!
— Submitted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 by Ryan Frischke
Ah, je l'ai vu dans notre parc! Elle d'avais aucune peur de gens et était vraiment coooool!
— Submitted on Sunday, January 18, 2015 by Yuliya Bodryzlova
I choose the majestic and beautiful Great Gray Owl for several reasons.
1. Most of its range map is in Canada and not the US.
2. Several of the species mentioned, though they are plentiful in Canada, they are plentiful in many other places - I'll be moving to Wisconsin soon as that is where my husband is from. Loons, Canada Geese and cranes of all sorts are crawling all over this place. Although creatures like chickadees and ruby throated hummingbirds are sweet, cute and something you can count on, they are everywhere. (In fact the Ruby-throated hummingbird's range map is largely in the eastern part of the US, not Canada) so for people travelling up here from that region, might not be as wowed as it is a common bird where they are from ... but the Great Gray? Different story. It is something many from the US and other parts of the world are not as familiar with.
3. Part of the allure of choosing the Great Gray Owl is the fact that they are often hard to find, they aren't everywhere and people have to travel to specific locations in Canada to see them. They are extra special and actually the bird that made me an avid birder. Looking one of these creatures in the eyes for the first time is something I'll never forget.
Ultimately, I think the bird chosen should be something primarily found in Canada. I look forward to the results!
— Submitted on Sunday, January 18, 2015 by Debby Schultz
I had never heard of the great gray owl until about 20 years ago, when my husband and I were driving home from our then cottage, and he spotted a large bird sitting on a wire fence not 10 metres from the road. He stopped, and we both gasped! Where had such a magnificent bird come from? We watched this wonderful creature as he (she?) studied us. There was no fear, just curiosity. At one point, he hopped down from the fence, which was about 3 metres high, poked around in the weeds and spread his (her) magnificent wings for the short trip back up to his (her) perch. This glorious bird never once attempted to fly away. Finally, we had to leave him as were due home.
This was before the days of widespread internet, and I had to rely on our "Birds of Canada" book, which of course was at home! As soon as we had unloaded the car, I went in search of said book. We perused it thoughtfully, then consulted a friend who was much better versed than we. Indeed, it was a great gray! Since that time, we have seen them in the North (Muskoka) where we now live. They always inspire awe and a feeling of gratitude in being able to share our space with such a truly magnificent creature.
— Submitted on Friday, January 16, 2015 by Mary-Anne Brabander
The great grey owl, although elusive, is found on landscapes that are truly Canadian. I have seen one in my life in the wild, up in the boreal region of Ontario. It was the single most profound nature moment of my life.
— Submitted on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 by Megan Sheremata
I voted for the great gray owl. It occurs all over Canada, even in northern regions. It is a non-migrator, toughing out the winter. It's majestic, mysterious, large and brave. A total representation of Canada
— Submitted on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 by Chantale Spencer
The great gray owl represents all things Canadian ... Noble, mysterious, rugged, a symbol of the Canadian wild.
— Submitted on Friday, January 9, 2015 by Marco Preciado
There is something about the sound of an owl at night when I am camping. I can't explain it, other than to say I love it and it brings inner peace.
— Submitted on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 by Mark Edkins
(Middle Sackville, NS)
Can you think of a better bird to represent Canada? Majestic, awe-inspiring. People who have seen these amazing birds are left speechless by their grace and beauty.
— Submitted on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 by Shauna Stevens
(Sherwood Park, AB)