What Do Owls Eat? - Feeding Habits of Owls
Owls have fascinated people around the world for centuries due to their captivating nature. Their allure is only enhanced by their nocturnal habits and mysterious behavior. Moreover, their unique appearance, characterized by their large forward-facing eyes and round faces, makes them instantly recognizable. Despite their charming appearance, owls are skilled predators with exceptional hunting abilities. They can even consume prey that are much larger than themselves. However, their diet can vary widely depending on their species, habitat, and prey availability.
In this AnimalWised article, we will explore the dietary habits of owls and other characteristics that contribute to their hunting prowess.
What are owls?
Owls are a group of birds of prey that belong to the order Strigiformes. Within the order Strigiformes, owls are further classified into two families: Tytonidae (barn owls) and Strigidae (true owls). The two families are differentiated based on their physical characteristics, such as the shape of their faces and the location of their ear openings.
There are over 200 species of owls found worldwide, and each species of owl has its unique characteristics and adaptations that allow them to survive and thrive in their specific environment. However, all owls are characterized by their large, forward-facing eyes, sharp talons, and silent flight. Owls are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are active during the night and rest during the day. They have excellent hearing and eyesight, which helps them locate and capture prey in the dark.
Are owls carnivores?
Yes, owls are carnivores because they feed primarily on other animals. Owls are equipped with sharp beaks and talons, which they use to capture and kill their prey.
As mentioned before, owls have several adaptations that make them highly effective hunters. These include:
- Silent flight: owls have specially adapted feathers that allow them to fly silently, making it easier for them to approach prey without being detected.
- Keen eyesight: owls have large, forward-facing eyes that are optimized for low-light conditions, allowing them to see well in the dark. They also have a high density of photoreceptor cells in their retinas, which increases their visual acuity.
- Excellent hearing: owls have highly sensitive hearing, which allows them to locate prey even in complete darkness. They have asymmetrical ear openings, with one ear slightly higher than the other, which helps them locate the direction of sounds.
- Powerful talons and beaks: owls have sharp talons and beaks, which they use to capture and kill prey. Their talons are strong enough to hold onto prey that is several times their own weight.
- Camouflage: owls have excellent camouflage, with feather patterns that help them blend into their surroundings and avoid detection by prey.
- Patience and stealth: owls are patient hunters, waiting silently for prey to come within striking distance. They also use stealth and surprise to catch prey, swooping down on them from above.
Owls have specially adapted digestive systems that allow them to consume and digest their prey efficiently. They are able to swallow small prey whole, digesting the soft tissue and regurgitating any indigestible parts such as bones and fur in the form of pellets.
Discover more information about carnivorous birds and birds of prey, including details about their diet, characteristics, and behaviors, in this other article.
What do baby owls or owlets eat?
Baby owls, also known as owlets, are dependent on their parents for food until they are old enough to hunt and feed themselves, which can take several months depending on the species.
While there may be variations in parental roles across owl species, it's typically the male that ventures out to hunt and delivers prey to the nest, while the female tears it into bite-sized pieces for the chicks. However, there are exceptions where the male is responsible for feeding the young.
As a result, owlets' diet comprises mostly of meat chunks provided by their caregivers, with the specific prey type depending on what's available in their habitat. In general, younger owlets receive smaller prey such as insects and larvae, while older ones get larger prey like mice, voles, and reptiles.
Do not miss this other article where we explore the sleeping habits of owls.
What do adult owls eat?
Adult owls have a varied diet that primarily consists of small mammals such as mice, voles, rats, and rabbits. However, the specific diet of an owl can vary depending on the species, the region in which it lives, and its hunting capabilities. In general, owls are opportunistic predators and will feed on whatever prey is most readily available.
To gain a better understanding of the owl's diet and how it varies between species, it is important to examine the habitats where different owl species reside. Below are some examples:
- Barn Owl (Tyto alba): barn owls are found in open habitats such as grasslands, agricultural fields, and marshes. They feed on small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews, which are abundant in these types of environments.
- Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus): snowy owls inhabit arctic tundra and feed on a variety of prey, including lemmings, voles, and other small mammals, which are abundant in these harsh environments. They may also eat birds and fish when prey is scarce.
- Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus): great horned owls are found in a variety of habitats, including forests, deserts, and grasslands. They are opportunistic predators and will eat a variety of prey, including rabbits, rodents, birds, and reptiles, which are all abundant in their respective habitats.
- Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia): burrowing owls are found in open habitats such as grasslands, deserts, and agricultural fields. They feed on a range of prey, including insects, small mammals, reptiles, and birds, which are all abundant in these types of environments.
- Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi): elf owls are found in desert habitats and feed on a variety of prey, including insects, small mammals, and reptiles, which are all abundant in these environments.
- Long-eared Owl (Asio otus): long-eared owls are found in woodlands and forests and primarily feed on small mammals such as mice and voles, which are abundant in these types of habitats. They may also eat birds and insects.
- Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus): northern saw-whet owls are found in coniferous forests and mainly feed on small mammals such as mice and voles, which are abundant in these habitats. They may also eat birds and insects.
- Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata): spectacled owls inhabit tropical forests and feed on a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects, which are all abundant in these types of environments.
For a deeper understanding of owl habitats, we recommend reading our other article dedicated to exploring the various environments where owls live.
If you want to read similar articles to What Do Owls Eat? - Feeding Habits of Owls, we recommend you visit our Healthy diets category.
- Cholewiak, D. (2003). Strigidae . Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 23, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Strigiae/
- Cholewiak, D. (2003). Tytonidae . Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 23, 2022 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Tytonidae/
- ITIS (2022). strigiformes . Available at: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=177848#null