Owl FAQs - Common Questions about Owls

What do owls eat?

Owls are carnivores, meaning an owl’s diet consists entirely of meat. Small owls generally eat insects while larger owls hunt rodents and small birds, but the exact diet varies by species. For example, the northern pygmy-owl is notorious for hunting songbirds despite being roughly the size of a robin. Meanwhile, the great horned owl has an expansive diet from frogs and scorpions to falcons and ospreys.

Where do owls live?

There are owls on every continent except Antarctica. Some, like the snowy owl and great gray owl, prefer the cold weather of the Arctic. Others, like the tropical screech owl and spectacled owl, thrive near the equator. Rather than build their own nests, owls find empty homes to move into. This may mean a hollow in a tree, a hole in the ground, or a comfortable spot in the rafters of a house.

Do owls have nests?

Owls do not build nests of their own, but sometimes find empty nests to move into. Owls like small, enclosed spaces such as a hole in the ground, a cave, or a hollow in a tree. People sometimes build owl houses in their backyards to keep the mice and rats at bay. See how to build your own owl house.

How many species of owls are there?

There are more than 200 species of owl in the world, big and small, each with distinguishing characteristics such as feather colors, ear tufts, and masks. Some well-known species include the great horned owl of North America, the snowy owl of The Arctic, and the screech owl of the eastern United States. Owls are classified under two families: Tytonidae, which includes barn owls and other masked owls, and Strigidae, which encompasses all other species of owl. 

What is the largest species of owl?

The world’s largest owl is the great grey owl, Strix nebulosa. The enormous owl prefers the cold climates of Russia, Canada, and Alaska. The average great grey owl grows to be between 24 and 33 inches tall with a 5-foot wingspan. These large predators eat mostly voles but hunt a variety of mammals and birds such as rabbits, weasels, ducks, and grouse. 

What is the smallest species of owl?

Just 6 inches tall and weighing 1.5 lbs, the elf owl is the smallest species of owl in the world. It’s one of the few migratory owls, spending its summers in the United States desert and wintering in Mexico. Its favorite foods are large insects such as moths, crickets, and beetles, though it will sometimes catch scorpions and lizards.

Do owls migrate?

While some species of owl migrate closer to the equator in the cold months of the year, the majority stay in place, even using the same nest in summer and winter. There are only a few exceptions, such as the small, insect-eating flammulated owl and Arctic-dwelling snowy owl. Both must move as their food sources become harder to track down in the winter.

What eats owls?

Owls are apex predators, another term for the top of the food chain. This means they are very rarely hunted for food. However, owlets alone in the nest are vulnerable to attack. Other birds of prey, such as falcons, eagles, and hawks, may spot an owl nest from the sky. Feline and canine predators may also try to take advantage of an unguarded nest. 

Do owls lay eggs?

All birds lay eggs, and the owl is no exception. (No special case have been found, but there may still be undiscovered species out there.) Depending on the species, owls lay between 1 and 13 eggs in one brood, with an average of 3 or 4. Once all the eggs are laid, the mother will begin nesting, and the father will bring her food. The eggs hatch after an average of 30 days. Owlets break out using an egg tooth: a hard tip at the end of the beak which falls off shortly after hatching. They must then be brought small pieces of food until they’re old enough to swallow prey whole. 

Can owls move their eyes?

Surprisingly, an owl cannot move its eyes independently of its head. An owl’s eye is shaped like a mushroom with a large, wide lens and a small stem, so it can’t roll like the human eyeball. Like other birds, it can’t move its eyes like humans can, and instead rotates its head to look at things.  

How do owls see in the dark?

What we can see depends on two tiny shapes inside our eyes: rods and cones. Rods pick up lots of light, making them perfect for night vision. However, they don’t capture much detail, such as colors and distance. Owls’ eyes are built to capture as much light as possible, with wide lenses and a million rods per square millimeter. This means owls see a flat, black and white world.

Can owls see during the day?

Though they can make out very little color or depth, owls can see during the day as well as during the night. Some owls, such as the burrowing owl and northern hawk owl, hunt during the day when they’re hungry. Others, such as the short-ear owl, are entirely diurnal.

What sounds do owls make?

Owls are most famous for saying “hoo,” but that’s not their only sound. Some shriek just like humans when startled or excited. Others bark or growl to scare their foes. The Australian barking owl says “woof woof” to get attention from other owls. Meanwhile, owlets shriek loudly to ask for food or comfort from their parents, much like human babies. The famous “hoo” sound is a territorial call, telling other owls to keep their distance. Listen to a series of owl sounds.

How do owls hunt?

When hunting, owls rely on their strongest sense: hearing. Though they cannot hear unusually high or low frequencies, what they excel at is picking out the slightest noises: rustling in the bushes, the squeak of a distant rodent, even scratching underground. When it hears the telltale sounds of prey, an owl dives toward it in near silence thanks to the serrated feather pattern around the edges of its wings. It then grabs the prey in its talons, flying back up without touching the ground. 

Owl Pellet FAQs

Where do you find owl pellets?

All of our owl pellets are collected from wild barn owl roosting and nesting sites.  Barn owls are very loyal to these sites and many are occupied for “generations”. The average barn owl only lives a few years.  We have collectors all over the west from Oklahoma to Washington and from Kansas to California.  When a collector identifies such a site, they map it and return every 3 to 6 months. An “active” site where 2 adults roost daily and nest once or twice a year can produce a couple of hundred pellets when visited at these intervals.  Your “60 pellets” might be collected in a few minutes or, for less active sites, it may take several sites, often with miles in between.

What can you find in an owl pellet?

The contents of an owl pellet tell you what the owl ate that day. There are often rodent bones and hair, sometimes egg shells and the exoskeletons of insects. It’s possible to identify the species of rodent by the shape of the skull. In many cases, an owl will swallow its prey whole, meaning the entire skeleton can be pieced together. Eggs and insect parts can be identified based on their size and color. After examining the contents of an owl pellet, it’s possible to hypothesize the species of owl and where it came from based on the clues.

How do owls make pellets?

With no teeth to chew with, owls either swallow their prey whole or break it into chunks using their beak and talons. The large chunk of food then passes through the proventriculus, which breaks it down using acids and enzymes. The food then lands in the gizzard, which squeezes the food apart and rolls the indigestible leftovers into a ball. This ball, called a pellet, is pushed back up to the proventriculus, where it will wait for up to 10 hours until the owl regurgitates the pellet and is ready to eat again. 

What comes in an owl pellet dissection kit?

An owl pellet dissection kit comes with dissection tools, magnifying glass, bone sorting kit, owl pellet formation guide, field kit for finding owl pellets in the wild, and a study guide for learning about owls and their ecosystem. Shop for owl pellets, replicas, and dissection kits for your home or classroom.