Owls are such impressive and mysterious birds! Their fluffy looks, penetrating stare, and hooting calls can’t help but stir the imagination.
However, these special birds are also fierce predators! Owls are carnivores that prey on a variety of animals, usually in the dark of the night.
What do owls eat? Are these powerful birds a threat to cats and dogs? See this article to learn what owls like to eat and more about these beautiful avian predators.
- Owls are natural predators who hunt anything from insects to mammals.
- For powerful birds, they can carry up to 9 lbs with them. This means, in theory, they are able to hunt cats down.
- Chances are, owls will not go for prey that is too large.
What Do Owls Eat?
Owls eat a wide variety of animals, especially small rodents, reptiles, and birds. In general, smaller owl species eat smaller prey and larger owls feed on larger animals.
Two of the smallest owl species, the Elf Owl and the Flammulated Owl, mostly feed on insects and other small arthropods. Screech-owls also catch some insects but mostly prey on mice, other small rodents, and small birds.
Pygmy-owls are small but fierce little predators that specialize on lizards and small birds caught during the day. Sometimes, they even prey on birds as big as themselves!
Larger owls, such as Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls, and Barred Owls, also catch the occasional bird but typically feed on rodents. However, most won’t pass up a chance to eat other small animals, especially the Barred Owl. These successful owls can also feed on small snakes, crayfish, and other small animals.
Two of the biggest owl species are also generalists that eat just about anything they manage to catch. That pair of powerful birds are the Snowy Owl and Great Horned Owl. Both eat everything from small birds and rodents to birds as large as ducks and even other owls.
Surprisingly, one of the largest owls, the Great Gray Owl, almost only eats small rodents.
Do Owls Eat Cats?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it is possible for some owl species to catch cats! In North America, the Great Horned Owl and Snowy Owl are both big enough to catch a small cat or even a tiny dog. In Eurasia and Africa, some big eagle-owl and fishing-owl species are also big enough to catch a cat.
However, owls rarely prey on cats and even less so on dogs. Most cats are still too big for owls to carry away, and there are much easier animals to catch.
Going after a cat is a big risk because the feline has some sharp tools of its own that can easily injure an attacking owl.
Once in a while, a big owl will catch a cat, but they don’t usually go after big and healthy cats. Like most predators, they are quick to take advantage of easy hunting situations. Therefore, if a big Great Horned Owl sees a sick or weak cat, it might try to catch it.
Related: Can you have an owl as a pet?
The owl still has to be strong enough to carry the cat away, and if the animal weighs more than five pounds, it’s probably too heavy. Bigger owls can sometimes carry animals as big as 9 pounds, but that’s pretty heavy, even for the largest owl.
Do Cats Have A Chance Against Owls?
Cats certainly have a chance against owls. Cats are highly evolved predators with extremely quick reaction times and sharp claws. They are also very much adapted to hunting birds and can quickly turn the tables on an attacking owl.
Most smaller owls wouldn’t dare attack a cat for this reason, and even the biggest owls have to be careful. This is why most Great Horned Owls only attack a cat if it’s small or if the animal is weak and/or vulnerable.
However, if the owl does attack and manages to grab a cat with its talons, the feline is in serious trouble. Great Horned Owls have a very strong grip and long, sharp talons. Once they grab their prey, they quickly squeeze their talons and may reposition them to cause more damage.
Their talons usually hit vital organs, and the owl also tends to bite and break the animal’s neck.
Are Owls Afraid Of Cats?
Most owls are wary of cats. They can recognize other predators and keep a safe distance from them. Small owls, in particular, have to be careful around cats.
Although it rarely happens, domestic cats do occasionally kill screech owls and fledgling owls. An injured owl would also be in trouble because cats and other predators are always ready to take advantage of easy hunting situations.
A birder I know once saw a Great Horned Owl kill a large Raccoon in a situation like this! As the unwary and possibly sick or old Raccoon sat at the edge of a wetland, a Great Horned Owl suddenly swooped in from behind and struck the back of the mammal’s head with its talons.
It killed it instantly but couldn’t carry the Raccoon away. With that in mind, Great Horned Owls probably aren’t that afraid of cats but still know it would be a bad idea to attack a big, healthy one.
How To Keep Your Pets Safe
- Keep cats indoors. This is always the simplest way of keeping cats safe from disease, Coyotes, and other predators, being hit by cars, bad people, and other threats.
- Don’t let tiny toy dogs out at night and always walk them with a leash. Tiny dogs can be susceptible to being attacked by dogs and other predators.
- If you live near Coyotes and Mountain Lions, always bring your cats or dogs in for the night! Sadly, there have been many occasions when these two predators have entered backyards and made off with family pets.
- Install a six-foot fence with motion detector lights. No fence is perfect but one like this can help protect family pets, especially in the day.
- Keep the backyard clean. Predators can be attracted to dog and cat urine and feces.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the biggest animal an owl can pick up?
The biggest animal an owl can pick up is a large rabbit or other animal that weighs less than 9 pounds.
How much weight can an owl carry?
An owl can carry as much as 9 pounds. However, in North America, only the largest Great Horned Owls are capable of this feat.
How do I protect my cat from owls?
To protect your cat from owls, don’t let them out at night.