Some animals have a very specific diet, like Koala bears that eat mostly eucalyptus leaves and did you know that the giant leatherback sea turtle eats mostly jellyfish? Owls are not picky at all and have one of the most varied diets. They will eat mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles (including snakes)! Do all owls eat snakes? What kind of snakes do owls eat? Do owls eat poisonous snakes? Do snakes eat owls? Let’s find out!
Do Owls Eat Snakes?
Yes, owls do eat snakes. Snakes are not the main food in their diet, but they will eat one if they come across one. Owls are opportunistic eaters so they will eat what they can find. Owls living in different habitats will adapt to the food sources that are available. Barn owls that live on farms feed mostly on mice, moles and other small rodents. The western Screech owl which can be found along the western coast eats crayfish because there is an abundance of crayfish in that area. As you can imagine, bigger owls are able to eat bigger snakes and vice versa with smaller owls eating smaller snakes.
How do Owls Eat Snakes?
Owls are nocturnal animals so they hunt at night. They will fly around looking for the slightest movement indicating prey. Their feathers allow them to be extremely silent when they fly so they can sneak up on their prey, swoop down and catch their dinner. For example, a great horned owl may fly down by the river and spot a bull snake slithering along the brush. The owl would silently swoop down and crush the snake with its talons and deliver a quick blow to the head with its sharp beak. The snake wouldn’t know what hit him. Then the owl would either swallow the dead snake whole or rip off parts into smaller chunks.
What Kind of Owls Eat Snakes?
Not all owls eat snakes. Researchers can study the diets of owls easily because they produce pellets. They regurgitate a ball of undigested parts of their prey, like bones, teeth, fur, and beaks. Maybe you looked at owl pellets in science class. So they can tell if snakes are part of an owl’s diet. The following are examples of owls that do eat snakes, but there are others as well:
- Great horned owl: variety of snakes (13+ species), garter, rat, bull (smaller ones)
- Eastern Screech owl: garter, rat, eastern hognose, earth snakes, ground snakes
- Barred owl: rat, ribbon
- Burrowing owl: smooth green, garter
- Long-eared owl: garter, rat
- Pel’s fishing owl: water snakes (small ones)
- Elf Owls: Brahminy Blindsnakes (these snakes look like earthworms, they are very small)
Do Baby Owls Eat Snakes?
Baby owls (called owlets) eat whatever the mother owl feeds it. The female and male owl parents work together to care for their young. Most owls have three to four babies at a time and they are born blind and quite helpless. They will stay in the nest under the care of the mother for weeks before venturing out to hunt for their own food. While the mother stays near the nest and watches over the babies, the father hunts for food and brings it back, giving it to the mother to feed to the babies. So babies will eat mice, insects, frogs, and if the father brings back a snake, the mother will break it apart and feed the snake to the owlets.
What is the Largest Snake an Owl will Eat?
The largest owl in the world is the Blackiston’s Fish owl. They have a wingspan of 6-7 feet. They live in Japan, China and Siberia. Their primary diet consists of fish like catfish, trout, salmon and pike. Although they are capable of catching large snakes, snakes do not appear in their diet. The largest owl in the United States is the great horned owl with a wingspan of 4-5 feet. They do eat snakes and can catch some pretty big ones. The bull snake (or gopher snake) is common in the US and great horned owls can catch and eat them. Bull snakes are typically 4-6 feet long with the largest bull snake ever found being 8.75 feet. Owls are not going to catch snakes that big, but they can kill and eat younger, smaller bull snakes.
Do they Eat Venomous Snakes?
Owls can eat venomous snakes, but it is not their main prey. Most venomous snakes are larger in size and are too big for owls to take on. Timber rattlesnakes are 4-6 feet long and are a thick bodied snake. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes can get to be long as 8 feet and weighing 10 pounds! But smaller coral snakes for example, which are venomous, may be easier to catch and kill, especially with their easier to see red, black and yellow markings. If an owl can crush and kill the snake before it can strike back it won’t be bitten by the venom. For venom to be harmful it needs to be injected into the animal, if the owl doesn’t get bitten with the snake’s fangs, they can swallow it and not get sick.
Do Snakes Eat Owls?
On the flip side, snakes do eat owls, but only the eggs, babies and smallest species. Since most owl nests are in trees the snakes that are good climbers may try to make off with an egg, but mother owls are always nearby the nest so it is a risky operation. A baby owl that falls out of its nest risks being preyed on by snakes. Burrowing owls that make their nests in the old burrows of other animals like gophers are more at risk from being eaten by snakes since they spend most of their time on the ground.
Do Other Birds Eat Snakes?
Yes. One species of birds has snakes as one of their main menu item. The brown snake eagle is a bird of prey that preys mainly on snakes. These eagles are 2-2 ½ feet tall and weigh around 3-5 pounds. Their powerful talons and sharp beak make them a fearless creature that will even take on venomous snakes. They live in Africa with some of the largest, most venomous snakes. Brown snake eagles kill and eat cobras, adders and black mambas!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Rafael Goes/Shutterstock.com
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