Great Gray Owl Recovery

By Becky Hall

On October 10, 2020, a car struck a great grey owl (Strix nebulosa) in Island Park. Fortunately, it was taken to the Teton Raptor Center (TRC) in Jackson, Wyoming where we hope it will recover and return home. 

In 1993 the Forest Service believed the great gray owl’s range did not come this far south. But now thirty years later we do see them in the area. Their favorite habitat is conifer forests. Since their coloration is a mottled grey, silver, and brown it’s easy to miss them, especially when they close their agate gold eyes.

grey owl soars through air
Grey Owl soars through snowy air

Their distinctive facial disc and off-set ears give the great gray superior hearing. From one hundred yards away, the bird can detect the scratching of meadow voles, its favorite food. Sitting still on a branch, the owl listens. Then triangulating the location of its prey, it launches from the tree. Its 4-foot wingspan and upturned feather tips allow it to silently glide through the forest. Then with powerful long legs, it can reach into two feet of snow. And up it comes with a vole or mouse in its talons.

When Great Gray Owl-10-20 was X-rayed at the Teton Raptor Center, the vet discovered it had a fractured ulna (the elbow bone in a human). As the bone was healing, the owl had physical therapy a few times a week. This involved stretching out the wing straight, holding it still, and then retracting the wing to its natural folded position. When the TRC members realized the owl’s wing feathers were also damaged, they attempted a procedure called” imping” (implanting owl feathers). But GGO-10-20 tore out the imped feathers. At TRC no one gives up on a bird. Now they have decided to induce a molt so the owl will lose its feathers and grow new ones naturally. Everyone is hoping that Great Gray Owl 10-20 will soon have its new feathers and then be released back in Island Park. The wait is still on.

Becky Hall is a former teacher and school librarian. She writes children’s books and resides in Island Park.

Photos by Charlie Lansche – C.M. Lansche Images.