Owls have been known as some of the best bird hunters around. With that in mind, you may be wondering what their diet consists of and whether or not they take on other animal predators like snakes. This article will answer that question and take a look at what owls eat.
Owls are usually near or even at the top of their food chain in any given habitat, so the short answer to this is yes, owls do eat snakes. The long answer is a little more complicated than just a yes or no answer. So, let’s get into the more defined answer.
What Do Owls Eat?
While it is believed that owls are nocturnal and hunt during the night, many owls are active both during the day and at night while others are strictly active during the day. However, no matter when they are active, all owls have fairly similar diets.
An owl’s diet mostly consists of field and house mice, rats, other small rodents (e.g. squirrels), invertebrates (e.g. spiders, insects, snails, crabs, etc.), fish, other birds, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.
Since their diet seems so ranged in the items they eat, the important thing to note here is that owls operate on an opportunistic diet, especially when food is scarce. Each type of owl may have a different diet as owls that live in different habitats will adapt to the food sources they have there.
It is not uncommon for owls to eat snakes when they come across them. If an owl is particularly hungry, it surely won’t pass up a meal of a fresh snake.
There are four main types of owls that will eat snakes regularly, but all owls will eat a snake if given the opportunity.
Here are the owls that most frequently eat snakes:
- Barred Owl
- Burrowing Owl
- Eastern Screech Owl
- Great Horned Owl
All of the species listed above can be found across the Americas, which have rich environments full of both snakes and other animals that owls prefer to eat.
As mentioned above, owls are not picky eaters. However, owls also aren’t dumb animals, so they will not put their life on the line for their next meal. Snakes that are larger and pose threats to owls are not ones that owls go for.
Some common snakes owls eat include:
- Common Garter Snake
- Eastern Hognose Snake
- Rat Snake
- Ribbon Snake
- Smooth Green Snake
The list is not limited to these snakes. All kinds of small snakes are free game for owls to eat. The menu of snakes will change from habitat to habitat depending on where an owl lives. The ones listed above tend to be ones always found in an owl’s habitat.
Yes, owls can eat venomous snakes. Copperheads are common prey to owls (among other animals) but most venomous snakes tend to be large enough to deter owls from hunting them.
For an animal to be affected by the venom of a snake, that animal must be bitten so the venom can be injected into it. Therefore, an owl will not be killed by eating a snake. To be able to eat them, owls must first crush the snake in some manner so it will not strike the owl.
Like most birds of prey, owls have impeccable eyesight. However, unlike other birds who have eyes on the sides of their heads, owls have binocular vision. Like humans, owls have excellent depth perception, which makes them even better hunters. They are outstanding marksmen that can find the perfect point of attack on snakes to not get bitten in return.
Owls also have the ability to strike their prey almost silently, giving them an advantage. Once the owl has its mark, it streaks through the sky and then grabs the snake off the ground with its talons. When the snake is no longer on the ground, it can do nothing to defend itself from the owl. Despite its strong stomach muscles, a snake is useless without a solid surface below it.
Actually, yes, owlets can eat snakes. Both the father and mother help care for their young. Since owlets are born blind and fairly helpless, mothers stay around the nest to help them while the father ventures out for food. He needs to gather enough to feed the mother and the three to four eggs that owls typically have.
Typically, father owls will bring back things that are easier for their young to consume (e.g. rats, mice, insects, spiders, frogs, etc.) but will not pass up the opportunity for food if he happens upon a snake. If he brings it back to the nest, the mother will break the snake into pieces to feed to her young.