What Birds Do Owls Eat? (The Surprising List of Species)

Owls are captivating creatures that mystify people worldwide due to their striking appearance and unique hunting capabilities. As primarily nocturnal creatures, owls are known for their exceptional predatory skills, which enable them to successfully hunt a wide variety of animals. Their diet mainly consists of other birds, insects, small mammals, and in some cases, even fish.

Diving into the world of owls, one quickly learns that the diet of these birds of prey is influenced by factors such as their habitat, size, and individual species. With over 200 owl species worldwide, each has adapted to consume specific prey based on the ecosystem they inhabit. Some of the commonly hunted birds include songbirds, ducks, and even larger birds like ospreys, depending on the size and species of the owl.

Key Takeaways

  • Owls are skilled hunters that predominantly consume birds, insects, and small mammals.
  • The diet of an owl is influenced by factors such as habitat, size, and species.
  • Over 200 owl species worldwide have adapted to consume specific prey based on their ecosystem.

Owl Diet Overview

Owls are carnivorous birds of prey, with various species having slightly different diets depending on their habitat and available prey. Being predators, owls have impressive talons and distinctive hunting styles, making them efficient in catching their prey.

Most owl species primarily feed on small mammals and rodents like voles and mice, which are plentiful in their surroundings. When in forests or woodlands, owls tend to consume bank voles, wood mice, and shrews. In farmland areas, they may hunt field voles and occasionally small birds and invertebrates such as large beetles 1.

Owls are not picky eaters and will consume other birds when the opportunity arises. Examples of birds that may fall prey to owls include:

  • ducks
  • woodpeckers
  • crows
  • mockingbirds
  • jays

However, it’s essential to note that birds are not a primary source of food for owls—they typically make up only 10% of an owl’s diet2.

Being nocturnal creatures, owls have adapted to hunt under the cover of darkness, making it easier for them to catch unsuspecting prey. Some species of owls, such as the barn owl, have been known to feed on small mammals like moles and shrews, further broadening their food choices3.

Read Next: What Birds Do Hawks Eat?

Common Owl Species and Their Prey

There are many different owl species, each with its own unique diet. In this section, we’ll explore the prey preferences of some common owl species, including Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls, Snowy Owls, Short-Eared Owls, and Eastern Screech-Owls.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are known to be powerful hunters with a diverse diet. They mainly consume small mammals like rabbits, squirrels, and rodents, but birds also form an important component of their diet. Some examples of birds that Great Horned Owls may eat include:

  • Songbirds
  • Waterfowl
  • American coots

Barn Owls

Barn Owls have a quite varied diet, depending on the availability of prey. They primarily eat small mammals, such as:

  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Shrews
  • Moles

Though less frequent, Barn Owls can also feed on birds and insects when the opportunity arises.

Snowy Owls

Snowy Owls are adapted to a cold, arctic environment, and their diet consists mainly of small mammals found in that habitat. Their primary prey includes:

  • Lemmings
  • Arctic hares
  • Voles

Occasionally, Snowy Owls also eat birds like migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

Short-Eared Owls

Short-Eared Owls share some similarities with Barn Owls, as their favorite prey is also small mammals like voles and mice. At times, they may also eat smaller birds, including:

  • Passerines
  • Waterfowl

Eastern Screech-Owls

Eastern Screech-Owls are opportunistic predators, so their prey preferences can be quite diverse. They typically hunt insects and small mammals, but also consume other small birds like:

  • Songbirds
  • Sparrows
  • Woodpeckers

Types of Birds Owls Hunt

Owls are skilled hunters known for their ability to prey on a variety of bird species. Their diverse diet includes birds of various sizes and habitats. In this section, we will explore some of the common types of birds that fall victim to owls’ impressive hunting skills.

Songbirds, such as finches, sparrows, and mockingbirds, are popular targets for many owl species. These smaller birds are easier to catch and provide a satisfying meal for the predator. A similar group of birds often hunted by owls are the pigeons and doves, which tend to live in urban environments, making them accessible targets for the hunters.

Woodpeckers, jays, and crows are also on the menu for some owl species. Despite their larger size and often aggressive nature, these birds can still fall prey to the stealth and speed of an owl in search of a meal. Additionally, birds like ducks, geese, and chickens may be hunted by bigger owls, as they provide a substantial meal to satisfy their hunger.

Interestingly, some owl species are not picky with their prey and have been known to hunt other birds of prey such as hawks and even osprey. Although these battles can be intense, the owl’s agility and surprising strength give it an advantage in capturing these powerful avian hunters.

Lastly, species like the heron, known for its long legs and neck, can also fall victim to an owl’s hunting prowess. Although less common, these large wading birds may be targeted by larger owl species when other preferred prey is scarce.

Non-Bird Prey

Owls are carnivorous birds that consume a wide variety of prey, ranging from small insects to large mammals. One of the most common types of prey for owls are rodents, particularly mice and rats. These small mammals are easy for owls to catch and provide a substantial source of nutrition. Various species of voles, such as lemmings and shrews, are also part of an owl’s diet.

Insects play a significant role in the diet of many owls, with moths, beetles, grasshoppers, and scorpions being some of the commonly consumed species. Owls are also known to feed on a range of reptiles, including snakes and lizards. These creatures make for nutritious meals and add variety to an owl’s diet.

Amphibians are another group of animals that owls prey upon. Frogs, in particular, are a popular choice for many owls looking for an alternative to the traditional rodent meal. Crayfish, although not commonly associated with owls, do make an appearance on the menu for certain owl species that live near bodies of water.

While it may be surprising to some, a few owl species do consume fish as part of their diets. This is particularly true for fish-owls and fishing-owls, which are found in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Owls that consume aquatic prey are not only skilled at catching fish, but they also have specialized beaks and talons to help them grip slippery prey.

Owls have even been known to prey on larger mammals when the opportunity presents itself. For example, rabbits and squirrels are sometimes pursued by owls with impressive hunting abilities. Pets such as cats and dogs are not usually a target for owls; however, smaller or younger pets might be vulnerable to attacks by larger owl species.

Hunting Strategies

Owls are highly skilled hunters, known for their incredible ability to capture a wide variety of prey. As nocturnal creatures, they are most active during the night and use their keen senses to locate potential meals. Diurnal owls, on the other hand, prefer hunting in the daylight hours and display similar adaptability in securing their prey.

One of the key attributes that make owls highly effective hunters is their well-developed talons. These sharp, powerful claws enable owls to snatch an array of animals, ranging from small insects like moths or beetles to larger birds such as osprey or even smaller owl species. There are even some owl species, like the fish-owl and fishing-owl, which predominantly consume fish.

Owls not only rely on their talons to catch prey, but also their exceptional sight and hearing. Their large eyes provide them with excellent night vision, allowing them to spot the slightest movement in the darkness. Furthermore, their remarkable hearing enables them to detect and pinpoint the faintest sounds of their prey, like the rustle of leaves or the squeaking of a rodent.

To capture their targets, owls employ an opportunistic and versatile approach to hunting. They primarily use their stealth and agility to sneak up on their prey, making the most of their natural camouflage to blend in with their surroundings. By using tree perches and elevated vantage points, owls can carefully observe potential prey from above before silently swooping down to seize them.

Habitat and Prey Availability

Owls can be found in various habitats across North America, ranging from dense forests to open grasslands and even deserts. Their presence in such diverse habitats is closely tied to their diet. As predators in the food chain, owls primarily focus on hunting nocturnal animals, such as mice, voles, and lizards [1]. In order to adapt to their habitats, owls have developed unique hunting techniques, and their prey availability greatly depends on the ecosystems they inhabit.

For instance, owls residing in woodland environments typically have abundant small mammal populations to hunt. Plant life, like tall trees and thick vegetation, provides ample cover for these hunters to silently stalk their prey and camouflage themselves from their targets. In winter, when prey becomes scarce, some owls migrate to regions with a more stable food supply, while others broaden their diet to include additional options like insects and birds [3].

While most North American owl species primarily feed on mammals like rodents, some, like the great horned owl and the screech-owl, also prey on other birds [3]. In habitats such as grasslands, where mammalian prey might be less abundant, birds can make up a significant portion of an owl’s diet [4].

Aside from being affected by the characteristics of their habitat, an owl’s diet can also be influenced by factors like seasonal changes, competition, and climate. In turn, owls themselves can have a significant impact on their ecosystems, helping to control prey populations, thereby maintaining a balanced food chain.

Owl Feeding Behavior

Owls are well-known for their exceptional hunting abilities and diverse diets. As opportunistic predators, they primarily feed on small mammals, but their prey range can extend to include various bird species, insects, and even amphibians when available.

Their incredibly sharp bills and strong talons serve as essential tools for catching and consuming their prey. During the breeding season, owls become more aggressive and efficient predators in order to provide for their offspring. This can make certain bird species and other small animals more vulnerable to owl attacks.

A unique aspect of owl feeding behavior is the formation of pellets. As owls consume their prey, they cannot digest some hard components like bones, feathers, and fur. Instead, they regurgitate these indigestible parts in the form of compact pellets. Analyzing these pellets can provide valuable insights into the diet of the owl species, as well as the prey abundance and biodiversity in their habitat.

Birds that may fall prey to owls include waterbirds like ducks, grebes, and coots, as well as smaller owl species, and even formidable birds of prey like prairie and peregrine falcons1. Owls that reside near bodies of water are also known to occasionally feed on frogs3.

It is important to remember that the diet of owls can vary depending on factors like geographical location, seasonal changes, and prey availability. Although they possess the skills and traits to target a wide range of potential prey, their primary choice remains small mammals like rodents due to their abundance and ease of capture.

With their impressive hunting skills and versatile diets, owls play a significant role in controlling pest populations and maintaining the balance of their ecosystems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do owls prey on other birds?

Yes, owls do prey on other birds. The types of birds they consume can vary depending on their size and habitat. They are known to hunt a variety of avian prey, from baby chicks of large birds to adult songbirds source.

What do owls most commonly eat?

Owls primarily eat small mammals and rodents, such as mice and voles. However, their diet can also include birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and even other owls. Their opportunistic nature means they will feed on any available food source source.

Do owls eat whole birds?

Yes, owls are known to eat whole birds, depending on the size of the prey. They use their impressive talons to catch and hold onto their prey. After killing the prey, they will sometimes swallow it whole, especially if it’s a smaller bird source.

What are 3 things owls eat?

Owls have a diverse diet that includes:

  1. Rodents and small mammals, like mice and voles.
  2. Birds, from baby chicks to adult songbirds.
  3. Other creatures, like reptiles, amphibians, and insects source.

Do owls eat sparrows?

Yes, owls can eat sparrows. As opportunistic hunters, they will prey on various bird species, including sparrows, if the opportunity presents itself source.

Do owls eat small birds?

Indeed, owls do eat small birds. Their powerful talons and hunting skills allow them to catch and consume various small bird species as part of their diet source.


  1. https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/01/what-do-owls-eat/ 2
  2. https://learnbirdwatching.com/do-owls-eat-birds/
  3. https://www.birdsauthority.com/what-do-owls-eat/ 2

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