Is an Owl an Omnivore, a Herbivore or a Carnivore?

Owl1 Credit: Chraecker/Pixabay

Owls are carnivores, meaning they eat mostly meat from other animals. The term “bird of prey” is used to describe a bird that hunts, kills and eats other animals. All birds of prey are carnivores, including owls.

What Does an Owl Eat

Owls eat a variety of animals, ranging from insects to small mammals. The species of owl, the environment and the availability of food affect what owls eat each day. Most of their diet is made up of insects, worms, snails, crabs and other invertebrates, as well as fish, reptiles, amphibians, rodents and even smaller birds. The bigger the meal the less time an owl has to spend hunting. But when an owl is hungry, it will settle for smaller creatures

How an Owl Finds Food

Owls are patient hunters who typically search for food in areas away from their nests or roosting areas. They have excellent hearing and vision that allows them to find even the smallest snack in their environments. Many owls hunt by sitting on a perch, such as a low tree branch or fence post, and waiting for the right moment to swoop in and pick up the prey with their talons. Some may soar over open fields in search of food, while others run across the ground to catch prey. Some species even skim or wade in water to search for fish and other aquatic prey. 

Hiding Food

Once an owl catches its food, it may not eat it right away. Instead, the owl hides it somewhere, such as in a hole in a tree or under a rock, and goes back for it within a day or two. This is called creating a cache or caching. Otherwise, the owl eats its prey as soon as it catches it. The availability of food in the area impacts whether or not the owl creates a cache. 

Unique Digestion  

Owls can’t chew their food and, unlike most other birds, don’t have crops to help with digestion. Instead, owls digest their food immediately. Any parts that can’t be digested are regurgitated in the form of pellets. For example, if an owl eats a mouse, the pellet may contain fur, bones and teeth. It typically takes about 10 hours for this process to complete, and once it does, the owl can eat again.

Food and Reproduction

An owl’s access to food can impact its reproduction. If the female owl determines there’s not enough food in an area, it will choose not to breed. If there is only minimal food, she’ll lay only a few eggs. If food is abundant enough to feed her young, she’ll generally lay the maximum number of eggs she can — up to 14 for certain species. Once the eggs hatch, male owls bring food back to the nest. The female tears it into small pieces and feeds it to her nestlings. 

Other Birds of Prey 

Owls aren’t the only birds of prey in the wild. Eagles, falcons, hawks, osprey and vultures are just a few examples of birds that fall under the category. Birds of prey are typically divided into two classifications: Falconiformes and Strigiformes. Owls are Strigiformes.  

Other Interesting Facts About Owls

There are about 150 species of owl in the world, and they live on every continent except Antarctica. Owls can’t move their eyes, but they can move their necks about 135 degrees in either direction. The female owl is typically larger and more aggressive than the male owl, and baby owls are called owlets. The oldest owl fossils on record are about 58 million years old.