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Do Owls Eat Squirrels? Everything You Want to Know!

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great horned owl eating squirrel

Suppose you are a gardener looking to deter squirrels from your garden, a pet owner seeking to change the live feed for your bird, or you are just inquisitive whether owls eat squirrels.

In that case, the simple answer is yes because owls are carnivores. Their diet includes meat from other animals.

Squirrels are rodents who qualify as meat sources for owls. Therefore, owls are often used for rodent control since they are natural predators. They not only feed on squirrels but rats, voles, and mice.

But do all owls eat squirrels? Let’s find out.

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What Kind of Owls Eat Squirrels?

Did you know there are over 230 species of owls in the world? These species are classified into Tytonidae (barn owls) and Strigidae (true owls).

The main difference is their appearance since barn owls have visible heart-shaped faces, unlike the circular ones on true owls. However, there is no difference when it comes to their diet. All owls are birds of prey.

They are nocturnal, which means they mainly hunt during the night. Small owls mainly feed on insects and other invertebrates like moths, beetles, crickets, scorpions, mice, shrews, voles, and birds.

On the other hand, large owls are opportunistic and prey on whatever they can find, including squirrels. These owls include:
  • Tawny Owl
  • Barn Owl
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Long-Eared Owl
  • Ural Owl
  • Barred Owls
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Great Gray Owls
  • Snowy Owl
  • Northern Pygmy-Owl
  • Northern White-faced Owl
  • Southern White-faced Owl

The above list is not exhaustive because any species of owls will hunt squirrels when food is scarce. It is not uncommon to find small owls hunting young squirrels.

Boreal Owls and Northern Spotted Owls hunt Northern flying squirrels, while Northern Hawk Owls and Northern Pygmy owls hunt red squirrels. Barn Owls feed on flying and ground squirrels.

But how do owls hunt squirrels? Here is how.

Image Credit: Alexas_fotos, Pixabay

How Owls Hunt Squirrels

Squirrels do not become an owl’s meal by chance. On the contrary, owls are efficient hunters and opportunistic predators who have keen eyesight and acute hearing. These nocturnal birds can detect prey at dawn, dusk, and night.

Due to the serrated edges on their wing feathers, owls fly silently without alerting their prey. Besides, these birds can memorize the sounds of different prey, and some can even locate and capture prey hidden under vegetation.

Once an owl has spotted a squirrel, it descends on a silent flight and pounces without being detected. Its sharp talons grab and crush the squirrel as the hawk-like beak rips the squirrel apart.

Can Baby Owls Eat Squirrels?

Yes, baby owls can eat squirrels.

Owlets consume the same diet as their parents. However, hatchlings can only eat regurgitated food from their parents or small food types due to their young age. As time passes, the owlets can swallow smaller pieces of squirrels or other prey.

What to Feed an Owl in Captivity?

Owls are carnivorous and need meat to thrive. Therefore, you must feed your owl with whole rodents like mice, voles, squirrels, small rabbits, quail, guinea pigs, or dead chicks. These animals should be commercially produced to meet the owl’s complex dietary needs.

As an owl owner, keep in mind that the bird is equipped with powerful talons and a hawk-like beak for tearing and ripping apart flesh. Therefore, it is vital to stay alert when interacting with the owl, particularly during meal times. The bird can use its beak or talons to cause you harm when displeased.

Image Credit: Albert Beukhof, Shutterstock

Foods to Avoid Feeding an Owl

When feeding your owl, avoid wild-caught rats as they may have ingested rat poison, and owls are vulnerable to poisons. Besides, wild rats carry Weil’s disease. Also, avoid feeding pigeons as they carry avian diseases that can be transmitted to your owl.

If possible, always offer fresh meat. However, you can also offer frozen meat and ensure that it is adequately thawed before feeding.

Always thaw the right size of meat serving. This is because if you refreeze and defrost the meat a few times, it is likely to become exposed to bacteria and can be fatal for your pet.

Moreover, do not add fruits, vegetables, seeds, or other plants because they are not part of an owl’s diet.

In Conclusion

Owls can certainly eat squirrels. Squirrels are afraid of owls such that a mere owl decoy deters them. Owls hunt squirrels at dusk, dawn, and during the night and use their acute hearing, keen sight, silent flight, and powerful talons.

Featured Image Credit: Feng Yu, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.