Yellowstone Reports

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A Rare Sighting

Great Gray Owl Chick
by Dan Hartman

Dec. 21, 2022

     As has been reported, we have a great gray owl hanging out between Silver Gate and Cooke City.

     It's a rare opportunity to observe the big owl hunting during winter. Heck, it's an honor just watching this beautiful bird perched.

     But, we need to be aware of something many of you don't understand.  This is an immature owl.  Actually a first year chick.  While adults and most chicks of the year have migrated vertically, (to lower elevations where there is less snow cover), this chick with no migrating experience has somehow wound up here.

     In our 33 years of living year round in Silver Gate, we've only experienced great gray owls wintering here twice.  Both times it was an immature.

     One we spotted off and on from November '92 to March '93.  This one we assumed survived.  The other we only spotted once.

     I would guess first year chicks survival rates would be in the 50% range.  Trying to survive here, especially in the winter we are going through, probably cuts his survival chances to 25%.

     Of, by the way.  You can tell it's an immature by checking out his tail feather tips.  If they're rounded, it's an adult.  Pointed, means it's a first year chick.

     This owl is obviously pointed.

     With more observation you can also tell by the way it constantly hunts, meaning no taking time between attempts, which you would see an adult do.  Chicks hunting success is so low, they have to hunt constantly to survive.

     So enjoy this rare opportunity.  But, remember how fragile his chances are.

     Give him room to work.  And most important, photograph and observe him quietly.  Don' move around much.  Don't whistle and call to him trying to get that face shot.  He'll look eventually.  And no throwing snowballs to attract his attention.

     This youngster does not need the distraction.



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