The Great Grey Owl

Posted by Heather on

Isaac, Great Grey Owl, at 6 weeks old, photo by Ben Coulson

I’m very happy to introduce you to Isaac, our Great Grey Owl! Literally a couple of weeks after Odin the Raven became grown-up enough to move into big aviary… we got a new baby bird who is now almost 7 weeks old, I must admit I was thrilled because Odin’s baby stage just flew by.

Collected at 3 weeks old, he was already much less intensive work to take care of than Odin was – with pretty good feather development already, he didn’t need a heat lamp, just a blanket over one half of the box he was in at night to keep one side cosy for him. Half of the base of the box was lined with astroturf and the other side with a blanket.

Isaac in his rearing box at 3 weeks old, photo by me :)

He has now moved in to Odin’s old ‘mini aviary’ where he has been practicing jumping between the two different level perches. This species becomes tame quickly and is also capable of learning at an early age. He can eat up to about 8 chicks and 2 mice a day (we are also substituting the mice for rat meat a couple of times a week as it is quite nutritious and will help fuel all the feather growth… sorry for those of you who are squeamish about icky bird of prey food!). We are still hand feeding several times a day with training and, when we leave work for the day, the remainder of the day’s food is left in a dish for Isaac to eat.

So the first step of training is recall – for around a week now, we have been getting Isaac to walk a few paces every time for a piece of food. We initially held the food close to his beak so he was about to take it, and then moved it back slowly so that he would follow it 3-4 steps before letting him eat it. He is now walking up over a foot to come and collect his food, and even pouncing down from his highest perch to greet us ready for his dinner. (The method of luring is best used if it’s only to get an initial response that is then phased out – to learn how to phase out this technique so not to ‘dumb down’ your animal you are training, read more about training here.)

Isaac at 6 weeks old, photo by Ben Coulson

The Great Grey Owl is the largest owl in the world (although not the heaviest) and reaches up to about 26 inches tall (head to tail), as you can see from the picture above where Isaac is sat on a falconry glove, he is a BIG baby! Isaac already has some mighty feet too; his very sharp talons and strong grip would be used for grabbing small rodents in the wild and their distinctive facial disk of feathers helps collect and amplify sound for listening out for their prey. The Great Grey actually has the largest facial disc of any raptor. They range across north Asia, Alaska, Canada regions and are capable of detecting a prey animal under 2 feet of snow AND plunging feet first through it to get hold of it!

Adult Great Grey Owl in flight, photo courtesy of www.arkive.org

I’m sure you’ll all agree that Isaac’s permanent look of surprise and fluffy feathers make him one of the most adorable birds I’ve introduced you to on this blog and he is only going to become more magnificent. I can’t wait to fly him in the shows and update you on his progress!


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