I have asked numerous people who know a lot more about Oregon birding history and/or Great Gray Owls than I do. I got a shrug. Even Evelyn Bull, a retired federal agency biologist, who co-wrote the Birds of North America account on GGOs could not answer my question.
WHEN AND WHERE WAS THE FIRST GREAT GRAY OWL NEST CONFIRMED IN OREGON?
ANSWER: 1959, FORT KLAMATH.
The brief but interesting story is in a one-page account published in “The Murrelet” in the Sept-Dec issue, 1959. The account was written by W. E. Griffee of Portland, Oregon.
“I…was greatly interested in seeing a nest near Fort Klamath, Oregon on April 4, 1959 and in collecting from it an excellent set of eggs which had been incubated from about five to nine days [this is highly unlikley as the eggs are laid several days apart and incubated from the paying of the very first one].
“Credit for the discovery is mostly due Mrs. Anna Strahan, a Fort Klamath school teacher, and one of her former pupils, Lyle Brewer. Both are avid bird watchers and really know their local owls.”
Griffee traveled to Klamath County to persuade Mrs. Strahan to help find a nest. She had been annually reporting GGOs on the local Christmas Bird Count.
She was reluctant at first. Perhaps she knew the city feller was determined to steal the birds’ eggs as a show of his triumphant discovery. Thankfully ornithology w]=has largely evolved beyond nest robbing some 55 years later. In less than two hours the group of three birders did find a nest. Griffee did have to work for his egg cache. He says the nest was 70 feet up in a dead lodgepole in an old Red-tailed Hawk nest.
RVAS is helping place nest platforms for Great Gray Owls. Jackson County has 300-500 GGOs, mostly in the Cascades. A few are in the uplands along the Applegate River. That estimate’s from Steve Godwin, BLM’s chief biologist in the county. For about two decades BLM field biologists in southwestern Oregon have searched for Great Gray Owls during an annual spring survey. Great Grays are in eastern Josephine County and Klamath County. The only confirmed GGO population in northern California is a small one north of Alturas in Modoc County. There’s an isolated population around Yosemite.
Godwin assured me the recent forest fire east of Greensprings did NOT hit known GGO nesting habitat. That fire mostly burned commercial timber land, not the right habitat for the species.
Platforms are being made by volunteer and nature photographer, Peter Thiemann. Each needs to be carefully placed in dense, mature forest near meadows good for Great Gray hunting. A platform is put 35 feet above the ground by an experienced forestry worker. Donations go for materials and pay the person equipped to hang the platform.
Below is nest platform that has been in place for over a decade, still in use. Almost no known natural nest site could last that long. The platform in the picture is in Cascades of Jackson County at about 4500’ elevation in a privately owned parcel of land that includes a spring-fed grassy meadow good for hunting small rodents year round.
One limitation to Great Grays’ population is lack of nesting places. Owls don’t build nests. They use cliffs, cavities, old nests for other species, manmade structures. GGOs do not use buildings, bridges, cavities or cliffs. Left to their own devices GGOs need a large tree trunk broken off at the right height or a nest built by Raven or Red-tail. Many of these natural nest sites are short-lived. A pair we monitored this spring on a private ranch near Grizzly Peak used a fast disintegrating Ravens’ nest. That area is where the first two platforms will be placed this fall.
There is good evidence of Great Gray Owls using nest platforms over many years. Here in the southern part of their range owls will pair and nest almost every season because food supplies—small rodents—are generally available. Further north lemming populations may crash leading to a dormant season where nests are fewer or non-existent. Platforms are now used for GGOs in Scandinavia, Canada and in their scattered nesting areas in the western U.S. One platform on private land near Howard Prairie Lake has been used both in 2013 and 2014.
If you can donate to the Great Gray Owl nest platform fund, please send check to:
RVAS, P.O. Box 8597, Medford OR 97501. Your donations are tax deductible.