Critters of North Idaho: The great gray owl

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  • Photo by Kameron Perensovich Great Gray Owl

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    Ryan

  • Photo by Kameron Perensovich Great Gray Owl

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    Ryan

You’re a small rodent, perhaps a mouse or a vole. This past winter there was a several-inch-thick layer of snow covering the ground. Usually, you’d be forced to either come out at night or hide in the underbrush to avoid being spotted by hungry predators. But by burrowing a network of tunnels under the snow, you were able to run around and find food and shelter just out of sight. You thought you were pretty safe, but all of a sudden, your snow tunnel collapsed around you and you were grasped by sharp talons before being hoisted high into the air.

If this was your story, you were probably on the menu for a great gray owl (Strix nebulosa). You can tell the great gray owl from other owls because of its coloration and size. They’re 24-33 inches in length and have a wingspan of up to 60 inches! This makes them one of the longest owls in the world, larger than its more famous cousin, the great horned owl.

Don’t be fooled by this owl’s apparent size though, as it weighs only 24.7 to 60 ounces. Most of its “size” actually comes from feathers that make it look … poofy. These owls also have a disc-shaped head, a small beak and are mostly silvery gray. As with many species of birds, the females are larger than the males.

These birds are nomadic (meaning they like to travel a lot) and they have very wide ranges in order to track the movements of populations of their favorite prey. They can be found in the northwestern United States, most of Canada and Alaska, and as far west as northern Eurasia.

Unlike smaller species of owls, great gray owls tend to avoid regions with many people, preferring out-of-the-way habitats like dense forests of evergreen pine and/or fir trees with nearby clearings and meadows. In northern Canada and Eurasia, they are often found in taiga, which is a kind of swampy coniferous forest growing in high northern latitudes.

What exactly is on the great gray owl’s menu? Mostly, they eat rodents like mice, squirrels, gophers and voles, but also weasels, smaller birds and frogs. These owls come with an amazing set of abilities and features that help them find food at all times of the year, even in the wintertime. How do they find these little animals in winter when there’s so much snow on the ground? This is where the amazing hunting adaptations of the great gray owl come into play.

Owls have a great sense of hearing. When they’re in hunt mode, the great gray owl will usually sit on a low tree branch, a tree stump, a fence post or a road sign and listen for the sounds of its prey. See how the great gray owl’s face is shaped sort of like a disc? This shape is called a “ruff,” and it helps to move the incoming sound of its hidden prey toward its ears. It is this amazing ability that allows the bird to hear rodents and other small animals under almost two feet of snow and up to 98 feet away! Then, the owl swoops down for the kill. Its wings are lined with tufted feathers, so that the flapping sound of its wings are silenced. The prey is completely unaware it is being hunted until it is captured in the owl’s talons.

Great gray owls are usually a silent species, in hunting, listening for prey or simply at rest. So if you end up traveling through a forest sometime, you probably won’t hear one. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for this year-round silent hunter of the northern woodlands.

HOMESCHOOL PROJECT

NEEDLE FELTED OWL

Felt is a type of of textile that is not woven. Needle felting in particular is the technique used to make felt without the use of water. The felt is made by interlocking fibers with the use of barbed needles. The barbs of the needle catch the scales on the fiber and cause them to condense, therefore becoming matted and tangled.

Did you know that feltmaking is older than spinning and weaving?

Supplies Needed:

Roving (4 oz. or More)

Felting Tools

Felting Needles (All-Purpose)

Felting Foam Mat

••• These supplies can be purchased from an arts and crafts store and online.

Roving

Felt can be made of natural or synthetic fibers. This project is using natural fibers. The fibers get processed into what is called roving. The roving shown in the photo comes from sheep and alpacas.

Felting Tools

Safety Lock Tool — Has multiple needles and a protective casing over the needles when not in use.

Wooden Felting Tool — Available with a single needle or multiple needles.

Pen Style Tool — Comes with multiple needles.

••• A single felting needle can be used by itself. It is great for detailed work.

••• The tip of the needles can break easily, so you should get several extra.

Felting Mat

There are several options for felting mats. You can use a “needle felting foam” or a piece of “upholstery foam.” If you use upholstery foam it needs to be thick so the felting needle does not touch the bottom of the mat. If you are industrious you can make a rice needle felting mat. The rice needle felting mat is made of a piece of burlap fabric and rice. Sew the burlap to the desired size you want your mat to be. When you have almost finished sewing the mat, leave an opening so that the rice can be put inside of it. Hand stitch that opening closed and you are ready to felt. The reason for hand stitching the mat closed is so that the rice can be reused when you are in need of a new felting mat.

How To:

The size of this owl can be as small as your hand or as large as an accent pillow for your bed. It can also be used as wall art. The density of the owl is pretty flexible. It can be felted very dense or somewhat squishy. The main thing to keep in mind please mind is that you want the final product to be sturdy. So as you are felting, periodically tug on it to make sure that it will not pull apart.

1. Decide on the size you want your owl to be.

2. Fluff the fiber to make a cloud.

3. Start the felting process by using the felting tool. The fluff will get smaller as you continue to stick it. If your fiber starts getting smaller than you want your owl to be just add more fiber.

4. After the fiber gets to the density that you want start shaping it.

5. See the photo tutorial of the felted owl.

Homeschool Project Provided by: angel dominiq

angeldominiq13@gmail.com

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