Owls are nocturnal predators. They hunt a variety of wildlife, even animals in your backyard. If you’ve seen stray rabbit fur or even rabbit body parts, you may be curious if your local owl is the hunter responsible.
Many owls, such as the Great Horned Owl, the Barn Owl, and the Eagle Owl, eat rabbits as their main food source. Owls are nocturnal, opportunistic hunters, and rabbits are a nutritious, abundant food source.
According to the size and breed of the owl, it can eat a rabbit whole or in part. Larger owls like Great Horned owls and Eagle owls eat rabbits and hares whole.
For example, the large Eagle Owl eats rabbits as their main food source. In fact, for many owls, rabbits and other rodents make up most of their diet. If there are not enough rabbits in their territory, they will diversify their food choices, but it has an effect on the ecosystem of that area, according to a study by The Raptor Research Foundation.
Owls help to keep rabbit populations in check.
Medium-sized owl breeds cannot eat a rabbit whole, so they will rip it apart and fly away with what they can carry. Smaller owls such as Pygmy and Elf owls cannot eat rabbits because they would choke, so they limit their diets to small rodents and insects.
Many people will find a rabbit’s body in their yard with the head decapitated. An owl may only eat the head of a rabbit if it cannot carry the whole animal. It is also not uncommon to see a rabbit body strewn across tree limbs where an owl attempted to carry it off, but it did not make it back to its nest.
The nocturnal owl sits and waits to hunt its prey. Owls use their keen vision and hearing to locate and keep watch of their prey. Owls are incredibly patient.
When the opportunity to strike arises, the owl will grab the rabbit with its sharp talons. It will then either carry away the animal or use its sharp beaks to rip apart the prey.
Owls have “kill spots.” These are usually around the owl’s nesting sight. These areas can be quite large, so even if you don’t see an owl nest nearby, there could be one in the vicinity. In the case of a Great Horned Owl, its kill spot was an 800 foot diameter from its nest in an oak tree. Their kill spot will have rabbit fur, body parts, and owl pellets.
Owls do not limit their diets to wild rabbits. They seize any opportunity to gather prey. If they see a rabbit in their territory, they’ll hunt it. However, they are usually afraid of humans and don’t want to hunt in a place where humans hang out.
So, if you have pet rabbits in your yard unsupervised at night, the owl may prey on them, but hutches typically protect pet rabbits. Be aware that some Barn owls, according to an article by D.S. Bunn, have been known to hunt during the daytime. So, it is important to keep a close eye on your pet rabbit at all times.
Baby rabbits are the perfect size for an owl to hunt and eat. They are easy to carry and kill. They are also not as experienced at dodging the attacks of predators as adult rabbits. As such, they are a source of food for many types of owls.
Owls will often kill a baby rabbit and bring it back to the nest for their hatchlings to eat. Baby rabbits are easy prey and are often abundant.