Last week, a few of my friends were sitting on the porch in the evening when the topic of owl diets came up. They began to discuss whether or not owls eat squirrels. One said, “of course they do!” as if he had firsthand experience. The other just laughed and called him crazy. It seemed like a silly argument at the time, but it kept them going for hours! So, I did some research and found the answer that I’ll share in this article.
Do owls eat squirrels? Yes, owls eat all types of rodents, including squirrels. Mammals like squirrels are commonly included in the diet of the large and medium-sized owl species, such as the Barred Owls, Spotted Owls, and Barn Owls. Although most nocturnal owls rarely cross paths with squirrels due to their diurnal nature, owls will hunt them fiercely if the two come face-to-face.
In this article, we will learn in-depth about how owls attack squirrels and the owl species that generally feed on them.
Are squirrels afraid of owls?
If you’re familiar with the natural food chain, you must have an idea about how low small mammals like squirrels rank on it. The list of their predators stretches quite long and consists of mammals, reptiles, and birds.
Therefore, the only way for these creatures to survive in the wild is by being alert all the time. As a general rule, these little mammals are afraid of any animal or bird that are larger than them and possess the tools to harm them.
And since owls fulfill all these criteria, and some species even hunt squirrels actively, it is obvious for squirrels to be afraid of them.
Many residents use owl decoys when they’re trying to get rid of these pesky critters from their property, which is another evidence of the fact that squirrels are terrified by these raptors.
Can owls attack squirrels?
Owls are the kind of predators that attack their prey, kill them, and then eat them. Therefore, if these birds are going to feed on squirrels, they will unquestioningly attack them first. Let’s get to the bottom of it below:
How do owls kill squirrels?
As all of you might already know, owls are quite well-equipped hunters. They have keen eyesight, super-sensitive hearing abilities, silent feathers, a sharp bill, and strong talons.
Despite their small size, the squirrels survive in the wild due to their alert nature. But even these creatures cannot see the owls coming. Owls generally prey using the stealth technique and are most likely to spot the squirrels that are roaming on the ground.
Once the owls have set their eyes on the squirrel, they will wait for the right opportunity and then seize the squirrel in their talons and fly away. The squirrels are generally killed on the way, with owls’ sharp talons digging into their soft bodies. And in case they survive the flight, their predator would pull their body apart using their bill.
While it doesn’t really draw a picture in your head, that’s how things are done in the wild.
Will they eat a dead squirrel?
Do you know which birds are known for preying on the carrion of dead animals and birds? Scavengers like crows and vultures. But are owls also one of these? Not really.
Owls are not scavengers by nature and will generally seek live prey to feed on. However, in some rare cases, they have been found scavenging on carrion, though none of the experts have been able to tell why or how.
Because the instances of owls feeding on carrion are more common nowadays than they were in the past, it is assumed that food scarcity could have a role to play in it.
In any case, we have too little information about scavenging owls right now to provide a certain answer about them eating dead squirrels.
Owl species that eat squirrels
It has been noticed that the large and medium-sized owls consume mammals like squirrels since smaller owls are mostly insectivorous. However, if you’re looking for a more specific answer, here are nine owl species that feed on squirrels, either commonly or rarely:
Barred Owls (Strix varia)
Endemic to the eastern parts of North America, the Barred Owls are a large true owl species that are known to inhabit the mature forests of North America. They have three subspecies and are known to have a drab plumage compared to that of other true owls.
Among other things, these owls are also known for their powerful vocalizations. The adults will suddenly break into hooting calls, gurgles, and cackles.
Do Barred Owls eat squirrels?
Among mammals, the Barred Owls generally stick to preying on smaller species such as rodents and squirrels. They are known to hunt a large number of squirrel family members, such as pine squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels.
Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis)
Spotted Owls are a near-threatened true owl species found in the old-growth forests of North America and are declining in number due to habitat destruction.
In appearance, these owls closely resemble the larger Barred Owls, a species that has largely overtaken their population due to their broader diet, aggressive nature, and diverse habitats.
Do Spotted Owls eat squirrels?
Squirrels, particularly the Northern Flying Squirrels, dominate the diet of the Spotted Owls, constituting over 30% of it. Other mammals they feed on include voles, snowshoe hares, woodrats, gophers, and other squirrel species.
Barn Owls (Tyto Alba)
Barn Owls are the most popular owl species that do not belong to the true owl lineage. Like Great Horned Owls, these owls also have a widespread distribution globally, with about 18 recognized subspecies.
Barn Owls are mostly nocturnal throughout their range, except for Great Britain, where they’re also known to hunt during the daytime. Their heart-shaped faces and overall paler appearances make them appear quite adorable to the birders.
Do Barn Owls eat squirrels?
The diet of Barn Owls is dominated by a majority of small mammals, which includes both flying and ground squirrels.
Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus)
Just as their name suggests, the Great Horned Owls are among the larger members of the owl family and are closely related to the Eurasian Eagle-owls. Within North America, they’re also popular for being one of the earliest breeders.
Great Horned Owls have a widespread distribution throughout the Americas, with over 20 recognized subspecies. In terms of habitat, they’re highly adaptable and can be found in tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, mixed forests, mountainous areas, tundra, deserts, rocky coasts, swamps, and urban areas.
Do Great Horned Owls eat squirrels?
Although mammals make over 87% of the Great Horned Owls’ diet, most squirrels are safe from them due to their diurnal nature. The only squirrels that make it to the secondary diet of these owls are the flying squirrel group.
Great Grey Owls (Strix nebulosa)
Regarded as the largest owl species in terms of size, the Great Grey Owls have a widespread distribution throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Due to their ghost-like appearance, these owls are colloquially popular as “The Phantoms of the North.”
The credit of their large size can largely be attributed to their deceptively fluffy feathers that make them appear much more gigantic than they actually are. They have two recognized subspecies; one of them exists in North America, with the other found in Eurasia.
Do Great Grey Owls eat squirrels?
Although Great Grey Owls have a primarily vole-based diet, small mammals like squirrels, pocket gophers, chipmunks, weasels, and rabbits are also preyed upon by them.
Boreal Owls (Aegolius funereus)
The Boreal Owls are also named “Tengmalm’s Owl” in honor of Peter Gustav Tengmalm, the Swedish naturalist. These owls are not only nocturnal but also highly evasive, which is why humans rarely see them.
The plumage of Boreal Owls is mostly brown, with whitish underparts, much like the Northern Saw-whet Owls that they’re distantly related to.
Do Boreal Owls eat squirrels?
The diet of Boreal Owls consists of small mammals and birds, along with insects to some extent. Among mammals, these owls will prey on squirrels, voles, shrews, and mice.
Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus)
Also referred to as the “Polar Owl,” the Snowy Owls are large owls that breed in the Arctic and Palearctic regions. Their species is listed as Vulnerable by IUCN due to habitat loss caused by rapid climatic change. Snowy Owls are largely migratory in nature and also exhibit a diurnal routine, particularly during the summer months.
Do Snowy Owls eat squirrels?
Snowy Owls will only prey on squirrels during winters. The Richardson’s Ground Squirrels are the squirrel species most commonly hunted by these owls in winters.
Long-eared Owls (Asio otus)
Also referred to as “Cat Owls,” the Long-eared Owls are an eared owl species that breed in North America, Europe, and the Palearctic. These owls primarily inhabit semi-open landscapes and have a special preference for woodland edges.
Long-eared Owls have four recognized subspecies, and all of them possess the characteristic long ear tufts.
Do Long-eared Owls eat squirrels?
Although Long-eared Owls do feed primarily on reptiles, smaller mammals like dormice, chipmunks, and squirrels are considered a negligible part of their diet.
Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia)
Found across the open landscapes of North and South America, the Burrowing Owls are a true owl species that have remarkably long legs. Another interesting fact about these owls is that they’re diurnal, which is a rarity in the owl family.
These bright-eyed owls have 18 recognized subspecies, out of which two have now gone extinct. They survive up to 9 years in the wild and are more likely to be killed by vehicles than by their predators.
Do Burrowing Owls eat squirrels?
As their name suggests, the Burrowing Owls tend to inhabit the holes or burrows made by ground squirrels and are, thus, rarely seen preying on them. However, in case of severe food scarcity, these owls might attack ground squirrels for survival.
Do owlets eat squirrels?
While we’ve already established that squirrels are a part of owl’s diet, what about their younger ones? Do owlets eat squirrels as well?
For those of you who don’t know this, owls are incredible parents and look after their babies for a long time. Some species have been known to care for their nestlings for about ten weeks!
In this sense, the diet of the owlets is dictated by what their parents hunt and bring back for them. Therefore, if an adult owl species consumes squirrels, their younger ones would do so.
Let’s revisit our initial question: do owls eat squirrels? Yes, they do. Although the hunting period of owls does not usually match with the diurnal routine of squirrels, some owl species do include them in their diet. The owl species that commonly feed on squirrels include Barred Owls, Spotted Owls, Barn Owls, Great Grey Owls, and Boreal Owls.