L-R: Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, and Jan-Erik Nilsén, on the S301 between Genhe and Labudalin, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia, China, 19 July 2015. Eight days earlier, on 11 July, the trio discovered breeding Great Grey Owl near Wuerqihan.

Rare Breeding Record of Great Grey Owl in China

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Last year, Elaine and I spent two weeks covering the vast Hulunbeier region of Inner Mongolia with Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén. On our very first day (11 July), we had a rare breeding record of Great Grey Owl Strix nebulosa. As we were driving, we saw, far in the distance atop a billboard, a Great Grey Owl. As I stepped out of the car to admire it, a car came from the opposite direction and scared it away. We sighed, drove to the billboard, and parked. Would the owl come back? No. But something interesting occurred. From somewhere in the forest came begging calls, which I recorded (00:08; 1.1 MB):

Those are clearly the begging calls of a juvenile Great Grey Owl. A breeding record! That is good news, though not wholly unexpected. Though ‘very rare in China’ (MacKinnon), Great Grey Owl has one stronghold in this country, and that is the Greater Khingan Range of Hulunbeier—a fact known to the birders who find the species here each year (usually in winter). What’s more, next to us was ideal Great Grey Owl habitat, being ‘dense boreal or coniferous forest … with openings,’ as Handbook of the Birds of the World describes it—again, no surprise, as the forest next to which we were standing is known to hold Great Grey Owl and other owls.

Why, then, is a breeding record important? A breeding record matters because it confirms that at least some of the Great Grey Owl in the region are not simply wandering to Hulunbeier in the winter but are using the area year-round.

Why am I posting this news now? For months, the recording of the begging calls lay dormant in my computer. Recently, reviewing the events of July 2015, I happened upon the recording. I remember Jan-Erik mentioning, way back in July, that we may have a breeding record of Strix nebulosa. But we got busy and never followed up, and so only now can we report this interesting record.

Featured image: L-R: Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, and Jan-Erik Nilsén after achieving a rare breeding record of Great Grey Owl, Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia.
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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford is the founder of shanghaibirding.com. Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. Now back home in Florida, Brelsford maintains close ties to the Shanghai birding community and continues his enthusiastic development of this website. When Brelsford departed China, he was the top-ranked eBirder in that country, having noted more than 930 species. Brelsford was also the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai, with more than 320 species. Brelsford’s photos of birds have won various awards and been published in books and periodicals and on websites all over the world. Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, published in its entirety on this website, is the most Shanghai-centric field guide ever written. Brelsford is a graduate of the University of Florida and earned a master's in business administration at the University of Liege, Belgium.

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