Surviving in a Strange Land


Rowley, Perch (28110 bytes)After migrating from its breeding range more than five hundred miles to the northwest, this great gray owl stopped in Rowley, Massachusetts for the winter. It survived by hunting for voles and other small animals in the field of a very hospitable farmer. From January through mid-March, crowds gathered in the field each morning and afternoon to watch the owl perform. Unlike our resident owls, this owl was all but oblivious to the presence of humans. He would usually arrive a few hours after sunrise for two hours of hunting and disappear by late morning. He would then reappear a few hours before sunset for a second performance. The owl is shown here as it perched in a tree while scanning the field for prey.

Rowley, Pounce (22202 bytes)By late February, the owl had grown bold enough to pounce on his prey within a few feet of the the admiring crowd -- as he is seen doing here. The Great Gray Owl is considerably larger than the Barred Owl and has bright yellow eyes in contrast to the brown eyes of the Barred Owl. He is, however, of the same Strix family (Strix nebulosa) as the Barred Owl (Strix varia). As is the case with the Barred Owl, it is usually the male who leaves the home range for the winter when there is a shortage of prey.
Rowley, Hay (15959 bytes)Just before sunset on a warm March afternoon, the owl sat down in the field in front of the crowd that had been watching him hunt. Even though he was finished with his hunting for the day, he spent the next thirty minutes studying the crowd before flying off into the darkness. He is seen here staring at some of the curious creatures who had been pointing binoculars and camera lenses at him all winter. A few days later, he headed north and was not seen again. The snow had melted and it was time to return home for the spring mating season. He had survived the winter in a strange land and had entertained thousands of people in the process.  With a little luck, one of his descendants will honor Massachusetts with a visit someday.

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