What do owls eat?

What Do Owls Eat? Learn All About Their Diet

Known for their predatory behaviors and as a symbol of intellect, owls are part of a bird group called Strigiformes. This group is divided into two different families. The first, called Tytonidae is comprised of all barn owls that have a heart-shaped face, and the second one is called Strigidae which consists of all the other owls.

Due to their predatory capabilities, owls are known as raptors, or preying birds which means they use their curved bills and sharp talons to hunt and eat other small animals! Are you curious as to what owls eat? We will tell you all about it in this piece.

What do Owls Eat: Their Hunting Patterns

Owls are exclusively carnivorous animals that have excellent hunting skills. From small insects to larger animals and birds like Osprey, Owls entirely feed on other animals.  Some owls found in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa prefer fish for their diet. They spend much of their time hunting. this is why, people often search the term “what do owls eat?”

Although we mostly categorize them as nocturnal hunters, not all of them come in the same category. Some owls are also known to be diurnal and hunt their prey during the daytime. Most owls in the northern latitudes like the snowy owls have adapted to hunting for long hours during the endless sun and bright days. 

When we think about what do owls eat, we get to know that owls found in the western mountain forests like the Northern Pygmy are seen hunting small birds during the daytime when they usually hunt during the night. Burrowing owls are another example where they are seen outside their burrow during the day. Other than them, many owls are known to be Crepuscular, meaning that they are active during the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. 

What do Owls Eat as their Diet

Even though owls eat other animals, their diet depends on different species. This is due to the different habitats they stay in, which provide them with a completely different climate and geo-location. 

Their carnivorous diet depends on the food sources available in the region they reside in. Specifically, screech owls are divided into western and eastern species and mostly like to eat insects. As compared to the eastern owl, the western screech owl has many more eating options like snails, slugs, amphibians, rodents, fish, and even other smaller birds.

Large species of owls like hoot owls have also been seen carrying small dogs and cats. The large Eagle Owl is also known to hunt hare and young foxes, whereas the Great Horned Owl hunts insects and reptiles. 

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They Are Unable to Chew, then What do Owl Eat?

Seeing their sharp beaks, one might wonder exactly what do owls eat and how? Do they chew? Or do they swallow whole?

As owls belong to the bird family, the common trait they share is the lack of teeth in their mouth. Instead of using teeth to chew, these owls use their sharp, hooked beaks to crush the skulls and bones and tear them into the flesh of animals. 

Even though they mostly swallow small animals whole, when they are unable to do so, they use their strong beaks. Hours after they have eaten the animal, they regurgitate any part of their prey’s body that they are unable to digest out of their mouth in the form of a pallet.

Excellent Hearing Ability

Since we are discussing what do owls eat, you should know that owls are mostly nocturnal, their hearing sense exceeds that of many other animals. With their outstanding ability to hear, they can easily locate their prey in the dark. For example, if we take the example of barn owls, they are able to locate all kinds of small animals in the thick vegetation, only using their auditory senses.

The feathers around their face that surround their ears present on either side direct the soundwaves. This way, the flat face of an owl act as a powerful and highly accurate radar. Different species of owls have a slight asymmetry in their ear positions that helps them in determining the distance between their target and them!  

Their flying pattern also helps them in hunting unsuspecting prey. Their flight is nearly silent, which allows them to pounce on their prey. But how is that possible?

Well, as compared to other birds, the wingspan of owls is larger than their body mass, which allows them to glide without dropping to the ground. Their feathers are also very soft and shaped in a way that it muffles any sound that might giveaway their presence as they approach their target.  

What Do Owls Eat? Wild vs Tame

When it comes to wild owls, they aren’t going to cooperate immediately and eat whatever you’re going to give. A little bit of force-feeding will be required. However, if you have never done that, then employing an expert is your best choice. But within 12 hours, they’ll start eating on their own. 

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If you want to know what do owls eat when wild, then small dead mammals like rats/mice are the perfect food. This can be a little expensive, therefore, the staple food for owls is dead poultry chicken.

If there’s an emergency, it is acceptable to feed them with raw chicken but it is advised to not give them any other kind of meat like lamb or pork.

However, when you’re learning about what do owls eat, there are some restrictions. Do not give them lean meat without roughage, meaning the fur and feathers for more than 2 days. This is because the pH of an owl’s stomach is not acidic enough to digest bones. The roughage is used for regurgitating bones in the form of pallets. So, if the bones aren’t wrapped up in roughage, and they try regurgitating it on their own, they might get stuck and can damage the esophagus of the owl.

It is also recommended that you should not use any canned pet food or cooked meat, other than what a vet might prescribe. Mice and day-old poultry chicks are actually available readily in many pet shops, therefore, you can just feed them that. However, you need to remember not to feed them frozen meat; so make sure that you defrost it completely before giving it to the owls. Also do not microwave the meat to defrost it quickly as it can make the bones go brittle.     

What do Owls Eat in Captivity?

No animals should be kept in captivity unless they are injured or are in need of help. However, you can attract them towards you and make some owl friends. You might be thinking how you can do that and what do owls eat in captivity?

In order to attract owls, there are four things that you need to take care of:


Owls never visit bird feeders as they prefer to hunt as their source of food. They prefer to hunt on insects and rodents. If you want to attract them and are curious as to what do owls eat, then don’t cut the grass often and add a little brush pile with some seeds on the ground that will attract mice. 

This will make the environment mouse-friendly which will, in turn, make it owl-friendly as they come to prey on their favorite food! Do not try to poison the mice, let the owls hunt on their own.

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Owls don’t require water in a water trough like birds. They get their water intake from their food. However, during the hotter climates, the owls aren’t opposed to visiting deeper birdbaths to drink and take a dip. But they’ll prefer it if it’s in a secluded place as that would most likely encourage them to visit.

Shelter and Nesting Site

Owls require dense and mature trees to make their home. Some small species of owls that are more common to be attracted towards backyards also sometimes use large nest boxes that are made 10-20 feet above the ground.

Barn owls are also observed making abandoned buildings into their nesting ground. These birds are quite intelligent, but one thing they don’t like making is their nest. If they can, they’ll borrow a place that looks suitable and abandoned enough as their home or shelter!

What do Owls Eat: Making an Environment to Suit them

If you like owls and are wondering what do owls eat, well, a list has been made above. The real question should be about how to attract them by making an owl-friendly environment. After making sure that all the things are available that are mentioned above, these are the things that you can do to make your yard more tempting to owls.

  • In order to give some perching spaces to owls, keep all the large, bare branches and dead trees intact.
  • As most owls are nocturnal creatures, consider keeping your yard dark and avoid any excessive lighting
  • Keep all your pets inside in order to keep the owls as well as the pets safe away from each other
  • Keep your yard natural and rustic without much pruning and maintenance.

Final Words

If you’re thinking of safe-keeping and want to know what do owls eat, then this piece definitely must have helped you. You can help save the 200+ species of owls by first taking measures yourself. If you have found an injured owl and want to restore it back to its health, now you know exactly what to feed it!

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