Rare Breeding Record of Great Grey Owl in China

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Last July, 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 2015), 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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