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What do Barn Owls Eat? (Complete List of Prey)

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Barn owls mostly feed on rodents, such as voles, rats, mice, and shrews, but may also feed on birds, lizards, and insects. They rarely feed on fish, but it does occur.

Barn owls are beautiful and fascinating birds that many people are interested in. Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions about what barn owls eat.

So what do they eat, and what should you feed them, if you’re keeping one?

In this article post, we will dispel some of the myths and tell you what barn owls actually eat. So, what do barn owls eat? Keep reading to find out!

What do Barn Owls Eat?

Barn owls mainly eat small rodents and mammals, such as mice and voles. However, they also eat insects, frogs, lizards, and even baby birds.

With a low variety diet, barn owls mostly feed on rodents. One study suggests that more than 90% of their diet is made up of these animals.[1]

Being nocturnal hunters, the barn owl hunts at night when their prey. They fly low over a field with their wings held flat and use what’s called a ‘flying zigzag’ pattern to catch prey.

Their diet does also somewhat change depending on the season:

  • During the winter, they will feed mostly on animals such as mice and rats
  • During the summer months, they also hunt for insects such as beetles.

Let’s further discuss a few animals that barn owls consider as prey.

LivingDiet
In the WildSmall rodents, reptiles, mammals, insects, rabbits, birds
In CaptivityMostly mice and chicks

Voles

Voles are small mammals that make up the largest part of what owls eat. Owls mostly eat voles because they’re common and easy to catch.

These rodents are herbivorous, meaning they only eat plant matter. They eat green vegetation, roots, bulbs, and some fungi. The voles that live in the tundra sometimes eat insects if green vegetation is not available for an extended period of time.

Voles eating

Small rats

Small rats make up a large portion of a barn owl’s diet[2]. Barn owls hunt primarily by swooping down from a perch and snatching prey with their talons. Once caught, they will tear the rats apart with their beak, swallowing whole pieces of meat since they don’t have any teeth to chew with.

small rat on the ground

Shrews

Shrews are one of the most common animals found in barn owl diets. Not only are they relatively plentiful, but also quite easy to catch with them being so small.

These rodents have a short life expectancy. They typically live for no longer than six months, partly due to predation. It is not unusual for shrew populations to decline due to predation by barn owls.

The key to the shrew’s small size is its high metabolism. Shrews must eat constantly, and it is estimated that they eat their own body weight daily in food.

Shrew

Young rabbits

Young rabbits are also common in a barn owl’s diet. As with the other animals found in this owl’s diet, they’re small, however, rabbits aren’t quite as easy to catch due to their high acceleration.

young rabbit on the grass

Small mammals

While barn owls mostly feed on rodents, they do also eat small mammals. As long as they’re small enough to hunt, barn owls will hunt them[3]. These include:

  • Rodents (as previously mentioned)
  • Squirrels
  • Guinea pigs
  • And other small animals

You’ll find most squirrels and rodents in a barn owl’s diet. 

A fascinating characteristic that makes these owls different from other birds of prey is that their favorite food varies depending on what’s abundant in their environment.

rodent

What do Barn Owls Eat In The Wild?

Barn owls are carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. They go after a variety of prey in the wild, including amphibians, reptiles, rodents, and other animals.  

Here are the common animals found in a typical barn owl’s diet in the wild:

  • smaller mammals such as mice and voles
  • large insects such as crickets
  • small reptiles such as lizards
  • birds

Barn owls are nocturnal hunters, so they hunt at night, especially after dusk.  

Related: What do owls eat?

What do Barn Owls Eat In Captivity?

The most common food used to feed barn owls in captivity is dead day-old cockerels, rats, mice, and chicks. These are easy to come by, and can often be purchased from commercial sellers as they are often by-products from farming.

Most people feed barn owls animals they’d otherwise eat in the wild as a supplement to their captive diet of meat-based food. This includes:

  • Mice 
  • Chicks
  • Rats
  • Cockerels
  • Voles

Owls in captivity are fed specific animals to make sure they get the nourishment and minerals needed.

Barn owl at a bird show

What do Baby Barn Owls Eat?

Baby barn owls eat what their parents bring back for them. The parents will toss pieces of meat into the nest, whereafter the owlets will eat them whole.

Baby owls, also known as owlets, can’t hurt themselves. They don’t open their eyes until they’re 10 days old, so they rely completely on their parents.

Barn owls mainly prey on what is available in their habitat. Their diet depends on what they can find in their specific range. They eat what they catch when they catch it, so babies don’t often get a choice of when to eat or what to eat.

Related: Baby Owl

baby Barn Owl

How Much Do Barn Owls Eat?

Barn owls eat a vast amount of food and can consume up to ten percent of their weight in one sitting. 

As they aren’t very big, barn owls don’t eat a lot. But they do, relative to their size. They eat about ten percent of their body weight, or approximately 3-4 prey animals a night.

They don’t always get a say in how much they feed on. Sometimes, prey isn’t available, so they eat what they can.

Are Barn Owls Carnivores?

Barn owls are considered carnivores because they primarily hunt and eat small mammals[4]. They eat what they need to survive and what is easiest for them at the time. 

They will hunt even if they are not hungry because hunting is what they do best.

Barn owl feeding

How Do Barn Owls Hunt?

Barn owls are nocturnal hunters, flying out after the sun does down. They use their talons to catch prey and are very skilled hunters relying on the element of surprise.

Owls, as with many other birds, rely on the element of surprise when they hunt. While falcons and hawks rely on their fast speed, owls use their silent flight to gain this advantage of surprising their prey.

They have great eyesight in the dark, but they largely rely on their acute hearing to locate prey. Here’s what they do to hunt:

  1. They use sounds and their excellent night vision to spot prey.
  2. Then, they swoop down while remaining completely silent.
  3. Afterwards, they use their sharp talons to capture their food.

Conclusion About Barn Owls’ Diet

Barn owls are one of the most common owl species in North America and can be found in a variety of habitats. These birds primarily eat small mammals and birds, but they will also consume reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.

About Kaitlin Mullins

Birds are plenty, and they can be hard to keep track of. Thankfully, Katilin Mullins has taken charge of these. With plenty of free time spent bird watching, she’s a true expert on these intriguing animals.

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