Great grey owl draws birders to southern Ontario

A great grey owl, rarely seen south of Lake Superior, has been spotted in one of the southernmost communities in Canada.

Search for food draws owl from the north to Kingsville, Ont.

Birder watchers are flocking to Kingsville, Ont. to catch a glimpse of a wayward great grey owl who is calling the community home.

The owl, rarely seen south of Lake Superior, has been spotted in a grocery store parking lot and on nearby rural Essex County roads.

The majestic bird, the biggest species of owl on the continent, has drawn bird enthusiasts from as far away as New Hampshire. Birders from Ohio and the Niagara region are also lining the rural roads looking for the owl.

Raymond Barlow came to Kingsville from Grimsby. And Ryan Griffiths drove more than four hours from St. Catharines to see the great grey owl.

"When you see a great grey owl, an owl that's not really popular or known around here, it's a spectacle," Barlow said.

"Having it that close, you get to appreciate how big it actually is, so it was pretty neat," said Griffiths, who caught a glimpse of the bird.

Do you have photos or video of the great grey owl? Tweet us @CBCWindsor.

Paul Pratt, a naturalist at the Ojibway Nature Centre, said this is the first time a great grey owl has been found in Essex County.

"Normally, if you want to see them you have to go up to Kenora district in [northern] Ontario or to Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan or out to the Rockies," said Pratt, who leads local owl walks. "They’re not a bird you’d expect find anywhere in southern Ontario."

Pratt said the owl has likely flown south in search of food and that its chances of survival in southern Ontario are slim because it's likely stressed, malnourished and hunting near busy roadways.

This great grey owl has been spotted in various parts of Kingsville, Ont. (James Frith)

Chuck Geraedts watched the owl eat a squirrel on the shoulder of the road near the intersection of Division Road and Second Concession after his son tipped him off about the owl's presence.

"It didn’t take long for me to get out of the house with a camera," Geraedts said.

He described the owl as more than half a metre in height and "kind of docile."

"He didn’t mind if anybody was looking at him," said Geraedts, who got within 10 metres of the bird. "I’ve never seen one in real life. This is definitely a first for me. It was pretty impressive."

Pratt said the allure of any owl is its regal appearance.

"They’re very majestic looking birds," Pratt said. "They have an appearance of being above everything else."

Pratt said local bird watchers shouldn't have any difficulty spotting the owl. It's the largest species of owl in length and, unlike most owls, hunts all day long. He does, however, encourage people to give the bird some space.