Tiaga, Tiaga Burning Bright

Here at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary we like to bring you regular updates of all our new arrivals, and if you have been a regular reader of our SOS Diary pages then you will already know that we have been planning to acquire a Great Grey Owl for quite some time! Well, I am happy to report that the day finally arrived recently and our new acquisition is settling in well to his (or her) new surroundings.

Wide eyed & restless - our Tiaiga will be airborne soon
We decided to call our new addition TIAGA (pronounced Tia’ga), as the name refers to the habitat or biome where this owl species can be found in the wild. As the world's largest terrestrial biome, it's a habitat characterised by the coniferous forests which cover inland areas of Alaska, Canada, northern Scandinavia, Russia, the extreme northern continental United States, Kazakhstan and Japan.

Typical Tiaga Forest, home of the Great Grey Owl

The Great Grey Owl (or Lapland Owl, latin name Strix nebulosa) is a very large owl which is distributed widely across the tree lanes of the Northern Hemisphere.  Adults Great Greys classically have a big, rounded head with a grey face and yellow eyes with darker circles around them. The under-parts are light with dark streaks; the upper parts are grey with pale bars. This particular species of owl does not have the distinctive ear tufts we associate with many of the larger owls, but makes up for it by having the largest "facial disc" of any owl species.

In terms of length, the Great Grey Owl rivals the Eurasian Eagle Owl and the Blakiston’s Fish Owl in the title for "world's largest owl", but much of its size is deceptive, since this species' fluffy feathers, long tail and large head obscure a body lighter than most other large owls. The length may range from 61 to 84 cm (24 to 33 inches) with a wingspan which can exceed 152 cm (60 inches).

An adult Great Grey - TIAGA should look like fairly soon.
(Picture courtesy Linda Wright)

Great Greys breed in North America from Lake Superior to the Pacific coast and Alaska, and from Scandinavia across the reaches of northern Asia. Their breeding habitat is generally near the open areas of meadows or bogs in the dense coniferous forests of the Tiaga. They do not build nests, so typically use nests previously used by other large birds or raptors or nest in broken-top trees and cavities in large trees. The abundance of food in the area usually affects the number of eggs a female Great Grey lays, which is quite common in owl species. If food is scarce, they may travel a short distance to find more prey, though they do not migrate.

Great Grey Owls usually wait, listen and watch for prey and then swoop down on it; they also fly low through open areas in search of food. Their large facial disks and the asymmetrical placement of their ears assists them in locating prey, combining to make an excellent hearing system which enables them to locate & capture prey moving beneath the snow. Unlike the more versatile eagle and horned owls, Great Grey Owls reply almost fully upon small rodents, with voles being their most important food source. Juveniles may themselves fall prey to bears and are a favourite of Northern Goshawks, while adults may fall prey to the eagle owls and lynxes.

Our young Tiaga - fledged but still Fluffy
The harvesting of timber from the Great Grey Owl's habitat is perhaps the greatest threat to the species. Intensified timber management typically reduces the large-diameter trees, leaning trees & and dense canopy closures which they like to use for nesting & roosting, and although human-made structures have been utilised by these owls, the species is far more common in areas protected from logging. Livestock grazing in meadows also adversely affects Great Grey Owls, by reducing habitat for preferred prey species.

So it is vitally important that healthy stocks of this species are maintained in captivity, in order to ensure that this variety of owl doesn’t one day go the way of the dodo.  TIAGA is doing very well at his new home; he hasn’t begun his full training yet, but we will of course, give you updates of his progress as time goes on.  We are sure that he will develop into a firm favourite here at SOS and if you wish to see TIAGA for yourself, please pay us a visit soon.