Like hawks and eagles, owls are also birds of prey or raptors. This means they are always actively hunting and feeding on other animals.
What do Owls Eat – What to Feed Owls – Owls Diet
But how do owls hunt and kill their prey? Typically, an owl hunts from a perch. These birds of prey often wait for the target to appear. The birds then swoop the target down using their open wings and stretched talons. In addition, owls use their sharp claws to kill prey through rapid stabbings and ripping their heads off.
Now you might wonder, what do owls use to hunt, and how do they hunt at night? Stay here to discover everything about an owl attacking prey.
How Do Owls Kill Their Prey?
All owl species, whether the great horned or barn owl, kill their prey using their strong legs and talons. These birds have four toes with razor-sharp claws, including three facing forward and one to the rear.
Owls use their talons to seize prey around the neck and spine, paralyzing them. Unlike the front claws, the talon facing backward is usually longer. Therefore, when these birds catch their prey, they typically push the rear-facing talon through the prey’s flesh.
Consequently, this helps puncture the target’s blood vessels and inner organs, killing it fast. Another way owls kill their prey is by crushing their skulls and bones using their powerful feet. Their feet are mighty, capable of exerting over 400 pounds per square inch of pressure.
However, this is different with smaller prey like:
- Snails and slugs
- Ground beetles
This is because these birds of prey swallow the small prey alive. Here is a video of the Great Horned owl hunting and killing a deer mouse:
How Do Owls Attack?
Once the owl has spotted the prey, it may wait for it to show up, like the barn owl. Then, the owl will swoop with open wings with the talons stretched forward to attack its target.
Sometimes, owls drop on their prey with their sharp talons before opening their wings. However, for smaller birds and insects, the owls often attack them in mid-air.
Likewise, when hunting fish, these birds usually skim over water or perch at the water’s edge. This allows these birds of prey to attack any fish that surfaces nearby using their beaks and talons.
What Does an Owl Use To Hunt?
To understand what makes an owl one of the best hunters in the world, let’s find out what it uses to hunt.
The primary feathers of owls boast a leading edge with a unique serrated appearance that is comb-like. This unique structure of their wings allows near-silent flight by absorbing noise. As such, these birds of prey can fly noiselessly a few inches over their target without being detected.
Uneven and Sensitive Ears
Owls’ ears are asymmetric, with the left ear opening higher than the right one. Therefore, the right ear usually receives sounds at different times than the left ear.
This allows the owl to develop a mental image of where the sound of the prey is coming from. The ears are also highly sensitive, allowing the bird to locate owl prey hidden beneath the snow or leaves.
Forward Facing Eyes
Another tool for owls hunting prey is their eyes. These birds boast binocular vision like humans, enabling them to see prey simultaneously with both eyes. Their eyes lens is close to the retina, giving them excellent night vision and better far-sightedness. Therefore, owls can easily spot their target in the dark.
Feet and Talons
Additionally, these birds of prey feature sturdy feet and strong claws that they use for hunting. The feet enable them to easily land and stabilize when they forcefully hit the ground to attack prey, making owl hunting easy.
How Do Owls Hunt at Night?
Owls hunting prey is possible at night due to their excellent hearing abilities. These birds can quickly locate a target out of sight, including underneath layers of vegetation, especially in the dark, because of their sensitive ears.
Owls typically perch on the fence or a tree and listen to sounds using asymmetrical ears. Once these birds detect any movement of owl prey, they will then determine the exact location of the target before attacking it.
Their facial ruff, which acts as a reflector, enhances their hearing abilities by channeling sounds into their ears.
Do Owls Drop Their Prey To Kill It?
Yes, owls drop their prey to kill, but this is only with the larger owls prey. Generally, these birds of prey usually attack and kill their target on the ground. They then carry the prey off to a tree branch to stay away from other predators and eat alone.
But these birds don’t drop to kill small prey like mice, frogs, and birds. Instead, they will grab the target on the ground or mid-air and fly to a branch to eat the prey.
Do Owls Rip The Heads Off Their Prey?
Yes, owls rip off the heads of their prey. Ripping the prey’s head is a way to ensure the target is completely dead. This enables the owls prey to quickly swallow the prey whole since it can be challenging to eat while alive.
However, owls will only rip off the heads of bigger-sized prey like young foxes, hares, and skunks. For smaller insects, moths, rats, and beetles, owls eat them whole without ripping their heads off.
Do Owls Kill Their Prey Quickly?
Yes, owls kill their prey quickly as these birds have strong feet. Therefore, they may crush the prey’s body and head while landing on the ground, instantly killing it. Their sharp talons are another weapon they use to pierce through the prey’s body to kill it.
Thus, owls kill their prey quickly because these birds are also exposed to their own predators while on the ground. Killing the target fast allows them to easily carry it to a safer spot on the tree, away from potential predators.
What Preys Do Owls Hunt and Kill?
Owls hunt and kill to feed. So, what do owls eat? Well, Owls are raptors. And as it turns out, all raptors are carnivores or meat eaters. However, what prey owls hunt and kill most depends on the species. For example, larger owl species like the eagle and snowy owl will often prey on:
- Young foxes and deer
- Larger birds up to duck sizes
- Squirrels and rabbits
On the other hand, smaller-size owl species like the screech, flammulated, and Scop owls feed primarily on insects. They eat earthworms, grasshoppers, spiders, moths, and beetles. But barn owls like preying upon shrews, voles, and mice.
Before we conclude, let’s check out some frequently asked questions regarding owl attacking prey.
For smaller prey, owls swallow them whole. However, for larger targets like an adult rabbit, the owl has to tear it apart into smaller chunks for easy swallowing.
No. Not all owls hunt their prey at night. There are some species located in the northern latitudes that are active during the day. These include the Snowy owls, Northern Pygmy owls, and Northern Hawk owls, which hunt throughout the bright days of summer.
Yes. Owls kill their own. Some owls, like the great horned owl and snowy owl, may prey on other owl species. These two species are overly territorial and will kill other owls to reduce food competition. This happens when the owls are too many in a certain territory.
Owls stand out as some of the most successive hunters. These birds of prey usually attack and kill their prey using their tough feet and sharp talons. Apart from killing their target quickly, they also rip their heads off.
But besides the talons, owls also use their silent feathers, sensitive ears, and forward-facing eyes to hunt. At night, these birds of prey rely on their extraordinary hearing abilities, ensuring successful owl hunting.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.