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What Do Owls Eat? (Every Prey Animal Hunted by Owls)

Owls eat meat from a variety of animals, including rodents, insects, reptiles, fish, amphibians, and other birds. Owls are often seen feeding on rats, mice, squirrels, and other small mammals.

Owls are skilled, nocturnal hunters, that have adapted and evolved incredible nighttime capabilities. These creatures are known for their unique appearances as well as their interesting diets.

So, what do owls eat?

In this post, we’ll explore what owls eat and some of the prey animals they hunt. We’ll also discuss how they hunt down their prey.

Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive, but it should give you a good idea of the variety of prey items that these birds consume. 

What Do Owls Eat?

Owls eat a variety of animals, including insects, rodents, small mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. They are known as nocturnal predators which means they hunt for food at night.

Owls are birds of prey, meaning they hunt other animals for food[1]. Throughout time, they’ve evolved to become the skilled hunters they are today.

They’re purely carnivorous, as their stomachs can’t process plants. Owls swallow their prey whole after they have ripped it to pieces with their sharp hooked claws, and beaks.

Having a varied diet, owls eat the following animals:

  • Insects
  • Rodents
  • Small mammals
  • Fish
  • Birds
  • Reptiles

Small Insects

Many animals feed on insects, as they are the most abundant animals on earth, including owls. This commonly includes moths, beetles, and anything in between.

Most owls eat at night. Fortunately, many small insects are easily available during this time of day. They eat the following insects when available:

  • wasps
  • bees
  • grasshoppers
  • moths
  • crickets
  • beetles
  • cicadas

Due to their great hearing owls are able to locate what small prey is nearby them just by the sounds the insect makes.

foraging bees

Rodents

Rodents are an integral part of owls’ diet. Owls are nocturnal hunters, meaning they hunt in the dark when their prey is active. 

The most common rodents that owls feed on include:

  • rats
  • mice
  • shrews
  • voles

They hunt using learned calls and sharp vision which they may use to find what animals do owls eat at night. Owls have hooked bills, sharp talons, strong legs, and reversible outer toes that allow them to catch these small animals with ease.

rodent

Small Mammals

Owls will eat anything they can grab a hold of. This includes other small mammals than rodents as well[2]

Their main source of prey is small mammals (and some reptiles), but some owls feed on insects and other invertebrates during certain seasons or throughout their lives.

One type of owl, the Great Horned Owl  (scientific name: Bubo virginianus), will prey on small mammals such as skunks and weasels, but they also prey on larger mammals like opossums and raccoons. Great Horned Owls will even eat animals as large as a gray fox or a small bobcat.

Voles eating

Birds

Birds are an integral part of many owls’ diet[3]. There are exceptions to this, such as the burrowing owl which only eats small mammals, insects, and reptiles.

Depending on the species, owls will prey on different-sized birds. Bigger owls can prey on large birds, such as osprey, while smaller owls keep to small birds, such as songbirds.

Their diet largely depends on the availability of prey. For example, in the winter when food is scarce owls will also eat carrion (dead and decaying flesh) and young and eggs of other birds.

Yellow songbird sitting on the branch

Do Owls Eat Fish?

Fish don’t make up a large portion of owls’ diet, but they do eat them. A select few owls do mostly feed on fish such as the Ketupa and the Scotopelia.

Fish are an interesting prey for owls because they are the only animals they hunt underwater.

Owl catching fish on water

Owls’ Diet Based on Species

There are more than 200 known species of owls. Each species has its own diet that varies according to what type of food is available, size, habitat, and region.

Owls live all over the world, with many different types of habitats including deserts, tropical forests, tundra, and grasslands. Since many of these habitats are spread out, so is the type of prey they hunt.

Let’s take a deep dive into a few of the owl species and their prey.

Owl Species Common Prey
Barn owls Reptiles, amphibians, rodents
Screech owls small mammals, insects
Horned owls rodents, rabbits, voles, squirrels
Snowy owls Arctic hare, lemmings, mice
Barred owls Rabbits, small mammals, birds, fish

What Do Barn Owls Eat?

Barn owls are known to eat what they can catch. The main prey of barn owls are voles, but they will also eat other rodents, small birds, and insects. About 90-95% of their diet is made up of rodents.[4]

Some barn owls will also eat reptiles and amphibians, however, this is not as common. Barn owls will also eat what humans supply, such as mice and rats.

Related: What do barn owls eat?

Barn owl feeding

What Do Screech Owls Eat?

Screech owls are a type of owl that lives in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. They get their name from the screeching noise they make when they call each other at night.

These nocturnal birds typically eat insects such as crickets, moths, and beetles. They may also eat other available prey if easily accessible.

Related: What Do Screech Owls Eat?

Baby Screech Owl

What Do Great Horned Owls Eat?

The Great Horned owl is a large species of owl, and can hence take on large prey as well. They feed on large birds of prey such as osprey and medium-sized mammals such as foxes. Aside from large prey, these owls also feed on smaller prey such as reptiles, insects, and rodents.

While they do prefer larger prey, as they make for a fuller meal, they hunt what they can find. They’re opportunistic hunters and will take on any available prey.

This typically includes mice and voles, as well as rats and small squirrels, though their exact diet can change depending on the season.

Related: What Do Great Horned Owls Eat?

Great Horned Owl

What Do Snowy Owls Eat?

Snowy owls are a species of owl that lives in the Arctic regions, which is why they have such a large range. They have been known to mostly eat lemmings, arctic hares, seabirds, and rodents.

These owls eat is what the Arctic has to offer. They eat what they can catch. Arctic regions are typically not abundant in food, which is why they often resort to lemmings, a small animal that’s easily catchable.

Related: What Do Snowy Owls Eat?

snowy owl eating

What Do Barred Owls Eat?

Barred Owls are most active at night and live off rodents, such as mice, voles, squirrels, and similar animals. They do also eat small mammals, such as rabbits, and insects.

As with all other owls, they’re opportunistic, and won’t pass on a meal if something is easily available.

Related: What Do Barred Owls Eat?

How Do Owls Eat?

To eat, owls tear their prey in pieces using their beak and talons. They can only digest soft-tissue elements of the prey, such as the meat, and can’t digest bones.

After spotting a mouse or other small rodent, the owl swoops down and grabs it with its talons. If they swallow their prey whole, they will then regurgitate a pellet containing the fur of their meal.[5]

Most often, owls will tear their prey apart before eating, to avoid ingesting any fur, tail, bone, or other elements they can’t process.

What Do Owls Eat In the Wild?

In the wild, would hunt for their food, and they’re very good at it. They don’t eat any plants, only prey animals, including the following:

  • rodents
  • fish
  • insects
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • small mammals

Some owls can eat more than 1,000 small rodents a year. This does depend on species, as different owls have different diets.

What Do Owls Eat In the Captivity?

Owls are often fed dead animals in captivity, as these are more obtainable by the caretakers. Some zoos and owl owners feed their animals live prey to keep their natural hunting instincts intact.

As owls are carnivorous animals, that depend on meat for their food intake, they’re fed meat in captivity. Knowing what owls eat helps us understand how to care for them better.

Some zoos have managed to maintain a certain level of the natural environment for their owls to be able to do some hunting.

Many owls found in captivity are also fed dead animals, mostly cockerels, mice, and chicks.

baby owl eating small prey

What do Baby Owls eat?

Baby owls eat what their parents catch. These young owls, also known as owlets, are completely dependent on their parents, as they can’t fly until they’re six weeks old.

At first, baby owls are fed regurgitated food (food that the parent has swallowed and then brought back up into their beak) by both their parents. 

Once the baby owls are able to eat on their own, they will be fed small pieces of meat instead of regurgitated food.

It’s not until they’re about 8-14 weeks old that they can fly and join in on hunting.[6]

How Much Do Owls Eat?

Most owls consume 10% of their body weight every day.

Owls need a certain calorie intake every day, as they spend a lot of energy flying. Most owls eat 10% of their own body weight every day, though some species have been observed consuming up to 30%.

Are Owls Carnivores?

Owls are pure carnivores, meaning they only eat meat from animals such as mice, fish, and other birds.

One of the reasons why owls are carnivorous is because they eat small rodents that could potentially spread diseases in multiple areas if not removed. Also, many people keep them as pets, and to do so, they generally need to feed them raw meat.

snowy owl eating a duckling

How Do Owls Hunt?

Owls hunt using their keen sense of hearing, silent flight, and exceptional night vision. These traits allow them to surprise their prey, swiftly catching them and crushing them with their strong feet.

Owls are known for their unique hunting methods and large eyes. One common question is “How do owls hunt?”. 

The answer involves a mixture of excellent craftsmanship and keen senses:

  • An owl’s wingspan can be as wide as six feet. They use these wings for their silent flight, which makes them great stealth hunters. 
  • For prey further away, owls rely on their exceptional hearing. 
  • As most owls hunt at night, they have evolved incredible night vision.
  • Once an owl has sighted prey, it swoops down to snatch its target with sharp talons.

Owls have the best night vision in the animal kingdom. Their rods outnumber cones 30 to 1, making them much better at seeing at night than humans.[7]

Stealthy Hunters

The forest floor is an owl’s preferred hunting ground. On this terrain, they are able to fly under the radar of other animals due to their low-profile bodies and silent wings.

Being able to fly without making a single sound is a big advantage, as it allows them to hunt using the element of surprise.

Owls have evolved a number of adaptations to capture prey. Their feathers tend to be soft – which adapts them for flying silently – and they tend to have comb-like serrations on the leading edges of their flight feathers, which reduces noise from air passing over them.

Owls Hunt Using Sound

An owl’s hearing is so sensitive that it can locate a mouse under a foot of snow. Owls hunt primarily by sound, using their acute hearing to locate prey and fly toward it before descending upon the unsuspecting victim.

Nocturnal Hunters

Owls are nocturnal hunters that rely somewhat on their vision to find prey. The eyes of an owl are very large in comparison to its head, and they have a big amount of rod cells, the cells responsible for detecting light in dim-light settings.

This allows the light to hit the retina directly, making them extremely sensitive and specialized for hunting at night. Having only one ear opening may also contribute to this sensitivity, as it allows the owl to pinpoint where a sound is coming from.

Conclusion

Owls are carnivorous and enjoy eating a variety of animals including rodents (voles, shrews, rats, and mice), rabbits, amphibians (frogs and toads), insects (moths, beetles), reptiles (lizards and salamanders), fish, and even other birds (osprey, hawks, and falcons).

If you’re interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures, be sure to check out our other articles where we explore their diet in detail. Thanks for reading!

FAQs

What Do Owls Eat the Most?

Most owls eat rodents as their primary food source. There are a few exceptions, such as fish-eating owls, and large owls that largely preys on birds and medium-sized mammals.

Do Owls Eat Birds?

Yes, owls do eat birds. They’re known to hunt both small and larger birds, including other birds of prey such as falcons, hawks, and osprey.

Do Owls Eat Cats?

Yes, owls do eat cats at times, though it doesn’t happen often. Only larger owls are capable of doing this, as smaller owls will only fall prey to the cats themselves.

Do Owls Eat Snakes?

Yes, owls eat snakes. While they’re not a frequent part of owls’ diet, some owls do feed on snakes whenever they stumble upon them.

Do Owls Eat Fruit?

No, owls don’t eat fruit. Owls are carnivores, only feeding on meat for sustenance. They don’t eat plants either.

Do Owls Eat Dogs?

Owls can take on very small dogs. While it’s not common for owls to eat dogs, as they are typically accompanied by their owner, it can happen.

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.