Menu

Owls are a family of predatory nocturnal birds. They have flat faces and large eyes, which help them see as they fly at night, as wells as special wing feathers that allow them to fly almost silently.

Looking at such specialized hunters, you may wonder: what do owls eat? The answer depends on the size of the owl species in question, but all feed off of small prey. This page lists some of the most common types of owls, and offers an in-depth look at their diets.

The Common Barn Owl is the most populous type of owl in the world, with golden feathers and a heart-shaped face. They hunt over open ground or wait in ambush on a fence post or tree limb. Their main diet consists of rodents, particularly mice and rats, but in some areas they primarily focus on gophers or bank voles. A nest of two parents and young can eat more then 1,000 rodents in a single year! Barn Owls eat small prey whole, including the fur, and later regurgitate the remains as pellets. They also pick off insects like termites and crickets, rabbits and toads. Barn Owls eat more rodents than any other owl, and their propensity for living in barns make them invaluable to farmers for controlling pests.

Snowy Owls are one the largest species of owl and make their homes in cold northern latitudes. They are nomadic by nature and enjoy a wide variety of foods. Their main prey are small hamster-like creatures called lemmings, as well as other rodents like deer mice. Snowy Owls also hunt ground-dwelling birds such as ptarmigans, grouse, ducks and geese and sea-faring birds like grebes. Their larger mammalian prey include rabbits and hares, raccoons, squirrels and muskrats. Snowy Owls are ambush predators, meaning they wait for unsuspecting prey to come along and then launch themselves for the kill. Because Snowy Owls are so large, they need to catch several meals a day. An average Snowy Owl eats almost 2,000 lemmings per year and around 10 mice a day.

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most widespread owls in the world with a habitat ranging from northern Canada to the very tip of South America. They are named for the tufted feathers on their head which are actually part of their ears. Their main prey is rabbit, but they are some of the most ferocious hunters in the bird kingdom and can hunt animals up to three times their own size. They catch and eat the standard small rodents mentioned under prior owls, as well as armadillos, raccoons, bats, weasels, skunks and even porcupines. They also eat birds as large as Blue Herons. Great Horned Owls are such fierce predators because of their massive strength. Their talons can squeeze prey five times harder than the average man.

Screech Owls are small, fast owls known for the distinctive screeching sound they make. They are usually found in semi-wooded areas of the eastern United States, where they live in holes in tree trunks. These owls may be small, but they are every inch the predator, like their larger cousins. They live off of mice, voles and bats, as well as insects like termites that share their trees. Screech Owls will also dine on small lizards and frogs if given the opportunity. Hunting is important for the Screech Owl not only for survival, but also for finding a mate. Male Screech Owls bring food back to their nests, and females choose their mates based on the amount of food they find inside. In this way, these owls naturally select for the best hunters, which perhaps explains how they have evolved into some of nature's finest hunters.


A What Do They Eat? project.