Silent and Swift

Christopher Lake, Saskatchewan

Great grey owls are North America's largest owl, with a wingspan of almost 5 feet. The intensity of the eyes in this image and the dark black background accentuate the grey tones that usually camouflage them. This owl was doing some morning hunting, as they often hunt both day and night. I spent a week with this owl, watching it hunt a meadow. It made many attempts per day, usually coming up empty-handed. They need about seven to ten mice per day to survive. When it did capture something in the snow, it would hold onto it, and quickly swoop back to its perch to swallow its prey whole; this is not an owl that usually tears its prey apart.

The angles for a good shot just never seemed to line up.  I was going for a shot where the owl would be coming straight towards me. In this particular case, something in the snow in front of me was stirring and had caught the owl's focus. I couldn't believe it when it flew right towards me! Entitled "Silent and Swift", this owl would fly overtop of my head, making no sound at all. Owls have fine barbs on their feathers that dampen their sound and makes them silent to unsuspecting prey. They are swift in capturing and quickly killing their prey. Their parabolic faces and the position of their ears allow them to pinpoint their prey, even under the heavy snow. At times when this owl dove into the powdery white drifts, I was surprised to see it come up with some food!

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