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What Animals Eat Owls? (When Predator Becomes Prey)


Thanks to their silent flight and powerful talons, adult owls rarely find themselves on anyone’s dinner plate. In fact, owls are usually at the top of most food chains and do not have many natural predators. What animal eats owls then? The answer might surprise you. 

Owls are predators themselves, and they feed on more than one link on the food chain (1). Adult owls are rarely susceptible to other predators but injured, or baby owls (owlets) can become prey to a variety of other animals, including owls themselves! Read on to find out what animals eat owls and other predators of owls.  

If owls have become a problem then read how to get rid of owls safely.

What animals eat owls?

Do owls have predators? Adult owls don’t typically fall prey to other animals as a source of food, although that is not always the case for their young. Baby owls, or owlets as they are called, can fall prey to any nest foraging predators such as weasels, prowling cats (big and small), skunks, and raccoons, to name a few. 

Eggs and owlets alike are a tasty treat for a variety of animals that eat eggs and nestlings such as opossums, foxes, and even crows. Owl predators often focus on the young and weak to maximize their likelihood of a successful hunt. 

Although not the target of many hunts, adult owls can find themselves victims, nonetheless. Hawks, eagles, and even other owls can sometimes prey on owls, but this is usually born out of a territory dispute. Territory disputes with other birds of prey such as hawks, ravens, or even other owls can result in injury or death. 

With ever-increasing human development and destruction of habitat, more birds are competing for the same resources, leaving territorial disputes a nearly surefire threat to many owls

Do hawks eat owls?

Owls are formidable birds of prey in their own right, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to attacks from other birds of prey such as hawks. As predators, hawks and owls are both perched at the top of the bird food chain, and fights or disputes between them are often territorial in nature rather than predatory. Thanks to their silent flight and overall prowess, owls are rarely challenged by hawks, as it’s easier for the hawks to seek other territories rather than fight it out. 

Do foxes eat owls?

Foxes would be easily harmed by the sharp and powerful talons of most owls, and owls will not hesitate to attack them if the situation calls for it. But prowling mammals often make short work of unattended nests and foxes are no different. Foxes will take advantage of unguarded nests to consume both eggs and owlets.

Do bears eat owls?

With owls being found all over the world, and in many habitats, their territories overlap with many other large predators such as bears. Swift and adept movements likely keep owls from being a major food source for most bears, but that doesn’t mean altercations have not occurred. Owls aggressively defend their nests and have been known to drive off large predators like black bears (2). 

Also read: 12 Simple tips to attract owls to your yard

Sometimes owls eat other owls

In some circumstances, owls can be both predator and prey. Being at the top of the food chain, owls have a wider range of food options than smaller birds like songbirds. Depending on where they live, their diet will consist of what is readily available in that environment. 

Owls are big fans of rodents, small mammals, snakes, bugs, and worms depending on availability. Owl prey depends largely on the specific species of owl and, to some extent, where they are located in the world. Barn owls prefer a diet largely of mice and voles, while other owls such as the Asian Fish Owl have specialized in specific forms of hunting like fishing to make ample use of that resource in their environment.

Do owls eat other birds? Both the snowy owl and the great horned owl are territorial and will prey on other birds, including owls. Too many owls in a territory mean less food for all and when it comes to survival, competition can be fierce. If other owls enter their territories, both snowy and great horned owls will attack or eat them to reduce competition. While these attacks aren’t necessarily motivated by a desire to eat, the availability of food and competition for resources plays a major role in their actions.

Related: How smart are owls?

What animals eat birds?

There are thousands of kinds of birds all over the world and with the exception of only the largest eagles and condors, all birds have predators. What eats birds is a question that cannot be answered specifically unless you are talking about a particular species of bird. Birds are eaten by different kinds of animals, including snakes, reptiles, and weasels, as well as by other birds, including falcons and eagles. 

Common bird predators are foxes, raccoons, cats, and dogs, but there are many other animals that also target birds. Snakes may not seem like a likely predator, but they have been known to invade nests as well as strike birds that inadvertently get too close. And when it comes to seabirds, a number of unlikely predators emerge. Predatory fish have learned to catch birds either on or near the surface of the water, while seals and even sea anemones have also been known to happily consume birds (3). 

Whether these predators eat birds regularly or only accidentally, these and others have made a meal of birds. And while they may not have been hunted, many dead animals, including birds, become meals for scavengers that simply cannot afford to pass up on an easy meal. 

The biggest owl predator is human

Although owls have a range of natural predators, the biggest threat to owls is humans. That is ironic because we like to think of owls as a symbol of wisdom and appraise them highly.

What eats owls in a food chain is nothing compared to the destruction done by humans on owl habitats. When we destroy habitats and force owls to move territories, we force more owls to crowd in less space with sometimes dire consequences (4). 

The crowded area simply may not be able to support the new numbers leading to starvation among the population. In addition to a lack of resources, owls are also affected by the artificial threats we create when we destroy their habitat. Despite having an excellent vision, birds have difficulty seeing glass, and as such, window collisions are a well-known threat to them. Additionally, airline collisions, toxic contamination, and new predators such as outdoor pets like cats and dogs have all taken their toll on owls. 

Owls are particularly susceptible to damage by automobiles as well. Not only are they at risk of being hit and killed if they hunt near roadways, but roads and streets fragment habitat and can have a knock-on effect on the owl population, like traffic noise reducing breeding variations (5). As human populations expand and urban areas become larger, it’s important we find a balance between our use of land and their need for habitat. 

Related: Why do owls hoot?

3 thoughts on “What Animals Eat Owls? (When Predator Becomes Prey)”

  1. Avatar
    Denise Nitschke

    I had a pair of horned owls nesting in 30′ spruce tree row, going on 3rd year, yesterday I found them both on ground. Female was missing her head, male looked like it was attacked on its side. What would have gotten them?

  2. Avatar

    I enjoyed the article very much.

    Question: Last summer we found the remains of a barred owl in our woods. Nothing left of it except feathers. What predator could have done this ?

    Thank you very much for your answer.

    Judy Posner

    1. Avatar

      Hawks can occasionally prey on owls. This usually happens when one is killed during a territory dispute, and though not entirely common, it is not a rare occurrence.

      Hope this helps!
      — Hailey Brophy
      Writer @ World Birds

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