We are back at Kirkleatham Owl Centre, giving you a behind the scenes tour. Read about the birds, watch their progress in training, and get up close and personal with other residents, including the meerkat and porcupine families. This week we meet a rather great owl

Atlas – a rather grand name for a rather stunning looking owl. Atlas is a Great Grey Owl, a bird which simply stops you in your tracks, a beautiful mix of silvery grey, white and black feathers with a huge round face and tiny yellow eyes – she is one of our most famous and beloved residents.

Great Grey Owls are found across northern Europe, northern Asia and north America, just below the Arctic were the forests start to give way to the tundra, in a line that spans much of the globe – they are a cold weather specialist.
Atlas was not born in the Arctic, she was actually hatched in Wales, at the Welsh Mountain Zoo and arrived at Kirkleatham in 2013 as a four week old chick – a tiny ball of dark grey baby down.

The Northern Echo: A younger AtlasA younger Atlas

Great Greys may look huge, but it is actually all feather and is designed to keep them warm in their Northern home, and under all that feather is quite a small bird. Atlas only weighs around two and a half pounds.

The most striking part of a Great Grey and the bit everyone notices is the huge round face, again it’s all feather, under which is a very small skull, but that round disc of feathers is basically a satellite dish directing sound to the owls ears, and Great Greys have some of the best hearing of any owl – able to detect the sound of a vole under a layer of snow from many meters away.

The Northern Echo: Beautiful Great Grey Owl AtlasBeautiful Great Grey Owl Atlas

You might think voles are a small prey item for a owl of this size, but actually most of a Great Greys’ diet is small mammals – voles, mice, shrews and lemmings. Great Greys have small feet and if you have small feet you tend to have to catch small things.

Atlas is loved by our visitors and is a star of our flying displays and twilight owl evenings, during which she is always the final bird of the evening, emerging silently from the darkness and gliding right past the crowd. And it’s that silent flight that has given Great Grey Owls their other name of the Great Grey ghost.

To suport the work of the centre, go to www.kirkleathamowlcentre.co.uk