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What Do Owls Eat?

Category: Birds.

A wise old owl sat on an oak,
The more he saw, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why can’t we all be like that bird?

A snowy owl carring its kill, an American black duck. © Chuck Homler.

The wise owl

Yes, indeed, it would be nice to be as wise as an owl, but with this wisdom comes a diet that none of us would, if we were in our right minds, ever choose. Owls are birds of prey, and need to kill other animals to survive. They eat by their wits, in other words. So their diets are varied, and depend on what kind of owl we are talking about.

What do they eat?

There are some species of owls that feed on invertebrates such as spiders, earthworms, insects of all kinds, crabs and sometimes snails. They are also known to go after amphibians, small mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. Pretty much anything in their path will be fair game.

Powerful owl (Ninox strenua) eating a ringtail possum. © David Lochlin.

Various types of owls

The Eurasian and African scops owls eat insects, for the most part, as do the screech owls. The barn owl will go after voles, mice and shrews, while the eagle owl devours even young foxes, hare, and birds that can sometimes be as large as ducks and other game. There doesn’t seem to be a size limit for these birds.

Owls that eat fish

There are other varieties of owls, and two interesting ones are the Asian fishing owls, and the African fishing owls. They wait at the edge of rivers and seas and swoop down on unsuspecting fish, hoping for a good catch for dinner.

Verreaux’s eagle-owl, or giant eagle owl (Bubo lacteus) eating a snake. © Derek Keats.

The Boreal owl

Most owls, however, will eat almost anything. They don’t hunt near their homes or roosts, but sometime will bring large prey home to store. The Boreal owl, if its food becomes frozen, will sit on it to thaw before enjoying it for lunch. They will often bring too much home and will need to store it somewhere. That place is usually a hole in a tree or a nest.

Some owls will hunt from a perch

Their method is to swoop down on the unsuspecting prey with wide-open wings and eat it immediately. If the catch is too big, the owl will carry it home in its talons. Anything in an owl’s path is in trouble and will have a difficult time getting away.

They have good eyes and ears

The owl has very sharp eyesight, which helps it immensely in its search for food. They are able to locate prey even on cloudy days or dim nights. They also have very sensitive hearing, which enables them to hear anything concealed in bushes or brush. In complete darkness, they hunt solely by sound.


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