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Photo: Great gray owl lives large

WILDLIFE WATCHING — With huge size and disproportionately large head, the great gray owl is a standout in the region's woods.

The bird's range — mostly in boreal forests — includes an area near Republic, Wash., as well as a fork of habitat south through far-eastern and North Idaho and a swath of Western Montana.  Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson says considers himself very lucky to have great grays nesting just a few minutes from his home.

The largest owl in Montana - very social, they don’t seem to mind our presence. Hands down, our favorite type of owls.

Photograph has eye for great gray owl

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The eyes of the great gray owl are haunting, as you can see in the photo made this week by Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson, who reports, poetically:

We spent the day again today with the Great Grays near Great Falls – wonderful birds.
They are very social birds, they actually fly and land near us when we are watching them.
They sit low in trees and listen intently for mice moving under the snow (waste deep).
When the time is right, they dive into the snow and grab the mice. They then crawl out
Of the hole and sit on the snow while they eat their prize. Once it is gone, it’s back to the
Low branch to do it all over again.

Great gray owl lives large over field mice

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The great gray owl, widely distributed in the boreal forests of the north, also is found in a narrow swath of home range that runs south through far Eastern Washington, the Idaho Panhandle and Western Washington.

But seeing them is rare.  I know birders who'd drive hundreds of miles to watch a great gray owl.

That's why Montana outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson knew he was privileged to spend hours on three different occasions last week — shooting thousands of frames from his cameras — with a couple of the owls as they fed in a Montana forest meadow.

This particular bird kept flying and landing near me. She would then sit quietly listening. Often, she would look directly toward the snow and then lose interest.
Every once in a while, she would not lose interest. She would silently fly and dive into the snow on the ground. She would go completely under the snow – Just her wing tips would stick out. Then, she would right herself and enjoy the fruits of her hunt. Sad for the mouse, but it is the circle of life.

She was probably 20 feet away on this dive. One cool thing, check out the bottom half of the beak – cool curve!

Even though great grays are huge owls, they have a taste for small rodents. They locate hidden prey with the help of large facial disks that funnel sound to their ears.  Using their heft, they've been known to dive for a rodent with enough force to crash through a snow crust that's thick enough to hold a 180-pound person.