Great Gray Owls in Ottawa Ontario

Great Gray Owls in Ottawa Ontario

Last Friday Deb & I headed to Ottawa for the first half of Family Day Weekend.  It was our first time in the nation’s capital in many years and the timing was perfect as it was also the last weekend of Winterlude, Ottawa’s famous winter carnival.  We were able to see the Parliament Buildings, take in the ice sculptures in Confederation Park and walk along the Rideau Canal, where I also enjoyed Ottawa’s most famous food, the Beaver Tail.

The primary reason we made the four-hour drive to Ottawa was to photograph Great Gray Owls, of which there are more than usual in Ottawa this winter.  Great Gray Owls typically nest and live much farther north (as far north as the Arctic Circle) however during the winter months in years that the food supply in the north is restricted, (or the Great Gray Owl population exceeds what the food supply can deliver), younger Owls that can not effectively compete with adult birds for food are displaced southwards until they arrive at areas where food is plentiful.  Once they find a location with an adequate food supply they typically stay until returning to the north in time for nesting season.

Although the owls were located in a well-known location about 15km from the downtown core, getting to the birds involved a twenty-minute hike from the closest place available to park the car. It seemed even longer as we made the trek before sunrise in -17°C temperatures carrying about 30 lbs of camera gear!  Watching the sun rise for another day is always a special time and we were reminded of Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”….which is exactly what we did!

The best light for taking pictures is during what are known as the ‘Golden Hours’ just after sunrise and just before sunset.  When the sun is low to the horizon, it is softer and warmer appearing which makes photographs far more appealing than when taken during the mid day hours when the light is harsh. It may seem too early when you are leaving in the dark with your camera gear, but it is always worth the effort!

We were fortunate to see two Great Gray Owls and spend about three hours photographing them.  Great Gray Owls are the largest North American Owl and some say largest in the world, measuring over three feet high with wing spans of up to seven feet.  I the north their diet consists mostly of Ptarmigan while in the south that changes to voles and mice, of which they can eat up to twenty per day.

I trust you enjoy the photographs of these magnificent raptors and as always, you comments are much appreciated.

Great Gray Owl 09


Great Gray Owl 08


Great Gray Owl 10


Great Gray Owl 07


These images were taken with either a 5D Mk III and 500mm f/4 lens or a 1D Mk III and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.




  1. These are amazing pictures Scott! It must take a lot of patience, especially on a cold day like that, to get superb action shots like these!

  2. Hi Scott. These are super shots, it is nice to see these images which made the drive worthwhile. I hope they are still there when I go back in Ottawa in 4 weeks.

  3. Paul powers

    Absolutely amazing! You sure these pics aren’t CG?


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