In a snow-covered hayfield next to a rural highway in southern Wisconsin, a little gray mouse goes about its business foraging for sustenance 6-inches below the white blanket. He is, as the saying goes, as quiet as a mouse. Unfortunately for the mouse, that’s not quiet enough.
Perched on an old utility pole about 20-feet high and 30-feet away from the tiny rodent, a Great Gray Owl has heard the “ruckus,” thanks to a large facial “disk” that serves to amplify minute sounds by funneling them to the ears. His round yellow eyes appear to be glowing against his gray-brown plumage.
The big bird practically lunges from his roost and swoops towards the seemingly lifeless patch of snow. With a wingspan of nearly five feet, you’d expect some commotion to accompany his attack. But his movements are eerily and completely silent.
Stranger still is that this stately owl is at least 350-miles outside his normal range. He is one of a handful of Great Gray Owls that have been spotted around Madison, WI, about an hour’s drive from our Dodgeville headquarters.
Back in Canada, where the big raptors normally lord over dense forests and wide prairies, there is a low supply of the owls’ most common prey – voles and other small rodents.
So the owls are showing up in unlikely places, from the Twin Cities to as far south as Janesville, WI. Curiously, the Grays don’t appear to be uneasy in more urban environments. But because they fly extremely low to the ground, they’re vulnerable to car collisions.
From about 10-feet above the otherwise-bleak landscape, the Great Gray folds up his wings slightly, talons tucked neatly under his chin, and dives headfirst into a narrow band of snow.
He shakes off the snow and surveys his surroundings. With no discernible change in demeanor, he momentarily contemplates the little mouse in his talons. The Great Gray Ghost has traveled far for this. Selfishly, perhaps, we hope he’ll stay. A moment later, he’s gone.
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