We studied home range and habitat use of radio-tagged Great Gray Owls (Strix nebulosa) in Yosemite, California. From 1986–90 we made 5338 relocations on nine adult and three juvenile owls. Home-range size was not correlated with number of locations and was significantly different between breeding and nonbreeding periods. Breeding female summer home range averaged 61.47 ha and during the winter 2457.27 ha, while males average 19.89 and 2112.87 ha, respectively. Juveniles and nonbreeding birds had home-range sizes intermediate between seasonal values of breeding owls. Home ranges for California Great Gray Owls were larger than has been recorded for all studies in North America, but smaller than in Europe. All owls were found to have intensive high-use activity centers (x− = 17.56 ha) in summer, with use patterns influenced primarily by meadows. Over 60% of all relocations occurred within 100 m of a meadow. Great Gray Owls habitat usage during summer was concentrated in fir (Abies spp.) and lodgepole (Pinus contorta) habitat types, while during the winter, birds moved to lower elevations into Sierra mixed conifer habitats. This post-breeding movement was the cause of the large nonbreeding home ranges. During winter, paired birds did not remain together, even though all birds moved to lower elevation habitats below deep snow-pack levels. We suggest that Great Gray Owls in California have responded to the relatively hot and southern habitat with unique adaptations that have allowed several local populations to persist within the upper montane Sierra Nevada forest zone. The protection of meadow foraging habitat, as well as nesting locations, will be important for the continued preservation of this southernmost North American population of Great Gray Owls in Yosemite National Park.
Additional publication details
Home range characteristics of great gray owls in Yosemite National Park, California
Journal of Raptor Research
The Raptor Research Foundation
Southwest Biological Science Center, Western Ecological Research Center