Owls are creatures of the night. These beautiful birds are easily identified by their huge eyes, sharp beaks, and long talons. They belong to the order Strigiformes and the 218 different species of owl can vary hugely in size and features.
These majestic birds are divided into two main categories; the true or typical owl of the Strigidae which includes 200 species and the barn owl type of the Tytonidae family which consists of 18 species. Both of these categories and most owl species share a very similar diet although there can be a few differences in general food preference since some are much smaller than others.
Owls are natural hunters. They prefer to hunt at night but are sometimes seen hunting in the dusk or dawn. On rare occasions, they might also hunt in the day. Their sharp eyes, the ability to rotate their heads up to 270 degrees, their quick inaudible flight, and their sharp beaks and claws make them ideal hunters.
Owls are birds of prey which mean they hunt other animals to survive. They follow a strict carnivore diet but their diet can still be quite diverse. Here is a quick look at some of the most-loved foods of the owl.
Owls can drink water but they usually get all their required hydration from the animals they consume. In harsh conditions or extreme heat; owls will however drink water to help them stay hydrated or to cool off. Ideally, a pet owl should be offered fresh water to ensure that it gets enough fluids to stay healthy.
Owls are opportunistic animals. They will hunt and eat just about any small animal or insect they find moving. Some owl species like the Scop or Screech-owl do however prefer insects over other foods. Owls can eat a variety of insect types such as snails, earthworms, spiders, crickets, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, beetles, pillbugs, millipedes, centipedes, spiders, and leaches.
Owls will occasionally hunt and eat fish but not all owl species can hunt and catch fish. They usually are not too picky about the type of fish they find since it isn’t easy to identify fish species when you are hunting from above the water. The most common fish species that owls happen to catch include sunfish, silversides, catfish, shad, minnows, and crabs.
Just about all owl species do hunt and eat reptiles. Owls usually focus on smaller or non-poisonous blind snakes such as earth snakes, garter snakes, and ground snakes.
They also love to eat a variety of lizard types such as anoles, geckos, skinks, and swifts. Typically, owls will catch and eat any type of lizard they can find.
On rare occasions, owls will also try to eat turtles. They mostly focus on smaller turtles that are easy to catch and carry off to the nest.
Amphibians are also a good food source for owls. They will catch and eat various types of amphibians such as treefrogs, toads, mole salamanders, frogs, lungless salamanders, and newts.
To catch amphibians, owls will catch them directly from the water or they might catch them while these animals venture onto land.
Owls have the upper hand over many bird species because of their ability to see in limited light or to sense other birds in the dark. Owls will hunt and eat a huge variety of other bird types. They love to hunt and catch warblers, mockingbirds, doves, swallows, creepers, thrushes, jays, sparrows, flycatchers, finches, tits, starlings, waxwings, shorebirds, woodpeckers, falcons, pigeons, game birds, and even cuckoos.
Despite that owls eat other birds, they are not cannibals. They might eat other smaller owl species but mostly avoid other owls. Their keen eyesight makes it easy for them to spot the difference in owl species. It does however occasionally happen that some owls do become cannibals but whether this is by accident or due to distress is still uncertain.
Owls catch and eat all sorts of small animals. They are very fond of hunting animals such as mice, rats, rabbits, hares, voles, squirrels, marmots, raccoons, skunks, chipmunks, shrews, bats, and waterfowls. Owls usually focus on small mammals but they might also catch the young of larger mammals such as foxes, porcupines, prairie dogs, cats, and many others.
Owls may sometimes eat foods that are not part of their usual diet. The biggest diet variation commonly noted in owls is cannibalism where they might by accident or choice catch and eat other owls. This is however quite rare. It is also rare – but not impossible – for owls to catch and eat animals that are rather large such as adult cats.
Owls are not generally tame but they can be successfully kept in enclosures if they are injured or orphaned. Some can become quite friendly towards humans but they can also be a bit dangerous with their sharp beaks and talons.
Extreme caution is needed if you are feeding wild owls or an injured wild owl. Some species have beaks that are sharp enough to cause severe damage to your fingers.
Owls do love to hunt but they are also happy to feed on deceased animals or cut meats. To feed owls, you usually only need to offer them food inside their cage and they will be happy to consume.
In the wild, owls can only eat the food they find in their natural habitat. They are opportunistic hunters and will hunt anything they find including other birds, small animals, insects, and reptiles. Owls will also try to eat carrion meat when they happen upon a fresh carcass.
Baby owls are called owlets. As new hatchlings, their parents will regurgitate food to them or they will offer them small food types. As they grow, they will start to eat the same foods as their parents. Small owls can swallow small prey whole but it is best to offer cut food into smaller pieces when you are feeding an orphaned owlet.
In some seasons, owls eat more than others. Larger species also eat more compared to smaller species.
As a rule of thumb, an owl will consume 25 – 30% of its body weight every day. Their quick metabolism encourages them to hunt often for frequent feeding times. The Elf owl is however an acceptance to the rule. This owl has a faster metabolism and needs to eat up to 50% of its body weight every day.
An adult barn owl can eat 2 dead chicks every day. In captivity, snowy owls are offered 200 – 400 grams of lemmings per day.
Owls need to eat at least once per day.
Owls do eat certain snakes but they tend to avoid poisonous snake types. They mostly feed on blind snake species and not all species of an owl will attempt to catch and eat snakes.
At night time, owls will also hunt and eat cats. Kittens are especially vulnerable to owls but some larger owl species can and will hut and eat fully grown adult cats. If an owl is large enough to carry a cat in flight, it will catch and eat a cat.
Owls don’t eat seeds, fruits, or vegetables. Most meat foods are perfectly fine for owls to consume and they can even digest carrion meats. Owls are however quite vulnerable to poisons such as rat poison those rats might have ingested.
It is also best to offer owl fresh meat instead of frozen meat. As meat taws, these foods can get exposed to too much bacteria which can be fatal to owls.
Owls are rarely prey to other animals but they can fall victim to a few animal species. Animals like foxes, prowling cats, and other birds of prey might hunt and eat owls. Humans are however the biggest threat to these beautiful animals since various practices such as rat poisons can cause a lot of damage to owl populations.
Owls are beautiful and majestic animals that deserve our respect and care. They are at their best when they are left at peace in the wild but they can be successfully raised in captivity if they are injured or orphaned. The best thing you can do to preserve the owl population is by refraining from using poisons. Wild owls living in your barn can also be supplemented with foods such as insects or mice to help them flourish in harsh conditions.