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How Do Owls Hunt and Kill Their Prey? – Interesting Facts

How Do Owls Hunt and Kill Their Prey

Like hawks and eagles, owls are also birds of prey or raptors. This means they are always actively hunting and feeding on other animals

But how do owls hunt and kill their prey? Typically, an owl hunts from a perch. These birds of prey often wait for the target to appear. The birds then swoop the target down using their open wings and stretched talons. In addition, owls use their sharp claws to kill prey through rapid stabbings and ripping their heads off.

Now you might wonder, what do owls use to hunt, and how do they hunt at night? Stay here to discover everything about an owl attacking prey

How Do Owls Kill Their Prey?

All owl species, whether the great horned or barn owl, kill their prey using their strong legs and talons. These birds have four toes with razor-sharp claws, including three facing forward and one to the rear.

Owls use their talons to seize prey around the neck and spine, paralyzing them. Unlike the front claws, the talon facing backward is usually longer. Therefore, when these birds catch their prey, they typically push the rear-facing talon through the prey’s flesh. 

How Do Owls Kill Their Prey

Consequently, this helps puncture the target’s blood vessels and inner organs, killing it fast. Another way owls kill their prey is by crushing their skulls and bones using their powerful feet. Their feet are mighty, capable of exerting over 400 pounds per square inch of pressure. 

However, this is different with smaller prey like:

  • Spiders
  • Snails and slugs
  • Earthworms
  • Ground beetles

This is because these birds of prey swallow the small prey alive. Here is a video of the Great Horned owl hunting and killing a deer mouse:

How Do Owls Attack?

Once the owl has spotted the prey, it may wait for it to show up, like the barn owl. Then, the owl will swoop with open wings with the talons stretched forward to attack its target.

Sometimes, owls drop on their prey with their sharp talons before opening their wings. However, for smaller birds and insects, the owls often attack them in mid-air.

How Do Owls Attack

Likewise, when hunting fish, these birds usually skim over water or perch at the water’s edge. This allows these birds of prey to attack any fish that surfaces nearby using their beaks and talons. 

What Does an Owl Use To Hunt?

To understand what makes an owl one of the best hunters in the world, let’s find out what it uses to hunt.

What Does an Owl Use To Hunt

Silent Wings

The primary feathers of owls boast a leading edge with a unique serrated appearance that is comb-like. This unique structure of their wings allows near-silent flight by absorbing noise. As such, these birds of prey can fly noiselessly a few inches over their target without being detected.

See also:  13 Largest Owls In The World That Are Powerful

Uneven and Sensitive Ears

Owls’ ears are asymmetric, with the left ear opening higher than the right one. Therefore, the right ear usually receives sounds at different times than the left ear.

This allows the owl to develop a mental image of where the sound of the prey is coming from. The ears are also highly sensitive, allowing the bird to locate owl prey hidden beneath the snow or leaves.

Forward Facing Eyes

Another tool for owls hunting prey is their eyes. These birds boast binocular vision like humans, enabling them to see prey simultaneously with both eyes. Their eyes lens is close to the retina, giving them excellent night vision and better far-sightedness. Therefore, owls can easily spot their target in the dark.

How Do Owls Kill Their Prey

Feet and Talons

Additionally, these birds of prey feature sturdy feet and strong claws that they use for hunting. The feet enable them to easily land and stabilize when they forcefully hit the ground to attack prey, making owl hunting easy. 

How Do Owls Hunt at Night?

Owls hunting prey is possible at night due to their excellent hearing abilities. These birds can quickly locate a target out of sight, including underneath layers of vegetation, especially in the dark, because of their sensitive ears.

How Do Owls Hunt at Night

Owls typically perch on the fence or a tree and listen to sounds using asymmetrical ears. Once these birds detect any movement of owl prey, they will then determine the exact location of the target before attacking it. 

Their facial ruff, which acts as a reflector, enhances their hearing abilities by channeling sounds into their ears.

Do Owls Drop Their Prey To Kill It?

Yes, owls drop their prey to kill, but this is only with the larger owls prey. Generally, these birds of prey usually attack and kill their target on the ground. They then carry the prey off to a tree branch to stay away from other predators and eat alone.

Do Owls Drop Their Prey To Kill It

But these birds don’t drop to kill small prey like mice, frogs, and birds. Instead, they will grab the target on the ground or mid-air and fly to a branch to eat the prey. 

Do Owls Rip The Heads Off Their Prey?

Yes, owls rip off the heads of their prey. Ripping the prey’s head is a way to ensure the target is completely dead. This enables the owls prey to quickly swallow the prey whole since it can be challenging to eat while alive.

Do Owls Rip The Heads Off Their Prey

However, owls will only rip off the heads of bigger-sized prey like young foxes, hares, and skunks. For smaller insects, moths, rats, and beetles, owls eat them whole without ripping their heads off. 

See also:  Snowy Owls' Diet: What Do They Eat?

Do Owls Kill Their Prey Quickly?

Yes, owls kill their prey quickly as these birds have strong feet. Therefore, they may crush the prey’s body and head while landing on the ground, instantly killing it. Their sharp talons are another weapon they use to pierce through the prey’s body to kill it.

Do Owls Kill Their Prey Quickly

Thus, owls kill their prey quickly because these birds are also exposed to their own predators while on the ground. Killing the target fast allows them to easily carry it to a safer spot on the tree, away from potential predators.

What Preys Do Owls Hunt and Kill?

Owls hunt and kill to feed. So, what do owls eat? Well, Owls are raptors. And as it turns out, all raptors are carnivores or meat eaters. However, what prey owls hunt and kill most depends on the species. For example, larger owl species like the eagle and snowy owl will often prey on:

What Preys Do Owls Hunt and Kill
  • Hares
  • Young foxes and deer
  • Larger birds up to duck sizes
  • Raccoons
  • Squirrels and rabbits
  • Falcons

On the other hand, smaller-size owl species like the screech, flammulated, and Scop owls feed primarily on insects. They eat earthworms, grasshoppers, spiders, moths, and beetles. But barn owls like preying upon shrews, voles, and mice. 


Before we conclude, let’s check out some frequently asked questions regarding owl attacking prey.

Q: How do owls eat their prey after killing it?

For smaller prey, owls swallow them whole. However, for larger targets like an adult rabbit, the owl has to tear it apart into smaller chunks for easy swallowing.

Q: Do all owls hunt their prey at night?

No. Not all owls hunt their prey at night. There are some species located in the northern latitudes that are active during the day. These include the Snowy owls, Northern Pygmy owls, and Northern Hawk owls, which hunt throughout the bright days of summer.

Q: Do owls kill other owls?

Yes. Owls kill their own. Some owls, like the great horned owl and snowy owl, may prey on other owl species. These two species are overly territorial and will kill other owls to reduce food competition. This happens when the owls are too many in a certain territory. 

Bottom Line

Owls stand out as some of the most successive hunters. These birds of prey usually attack and kill their prey using their tough feet and sharp talons. Apart from killing their target quickly, they also rip their heads off.

But besides the talons, owls also use their silent feathers, sensitive ears, and forward-facing eyes to hunt. At night, these birds of prey rely on their extraordinary hearing abilities, ensuring successful owl hunting.


Peter Kaestner

Hi there, my name is Peter Kaestner and I am the owner of As a avid bird watcher and enthusiast with a passion for ornithology, I want to share my knowledge and experience with other bird lovers through this blog. As someone who regularly participates in bird-related forums and groups online, I am dedicated to helping others learn more about these amazing creatures. However, it's important to note that while I am happy to share my expertise and advice, it is always crucial to consult with an avian veterinarian before making any decisions that could potentially impact your bird's health or well-being. Your bird's health and happiness should always be your top priority, and consulting with a professional is the best way to ensure that you are making informed decisions on their behalf. I hope that through my blog, I can help make a positive difference in the lives of birds and the people who care for them. Whether you are an experienced bird owner or just starting out, I encourage you to use this resource as a way to learn more about these fascinating animals and how to provide them with the best possible care.View Author posts