Owl vs Bat: Which Flying Creature Would Win a Fight?

Written by Zoe Carina
Updated: November 7, 2023
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When the sun leaves the horizon and most people are tucking into bed for the night, nocturnal creatures awaken. Folks who thrive at night sometimes get the pleasure of seeing these night animals go about their routines. Two animals that function at night are the bat and the owl.

Owls and bats frequently live within the same habitats. Bats are actually an important source of nutrients for owls. When it comes to owls versus bats, there is no doubt about who wins most often.

The real question is whether the owl will be able to catch the bat. Let’s unpack the battle of the century, mammal versus bird and see who will turn out the winner!

Key Fight-Winning Factors

bat versus owl versus photo. The bat is on the left and the owl is on the right.
Bats and owls are both nocturnal.
  • Physical features
  • Endurance
  • Agility
  • Speed
  • Intelligence
  • Behavior

We’ll look at each feature in detail below. Each category will go over characteristics found in all (or most) owl and bat species.

Physical Features

Owl

Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) standing on a post.

Owls have sharp hooked beaks and talons.

©LesPalenik/Shutterstock.com

Owls hold the advantage when it comes to physical features. Though there are owls smaller than bats, most are at least double the size of their mammal counterparts. The hooked beak and sharp talons are also an advantage.

Night vision in owls in incomparable within the animal kingdom. Their large corneas and pupils effectively gather light and are also effective in the bright sunlight of the daytime. However, owls cannot move their eyes and must turn their heads (they can turn their neck 270 degrees) to look around.

These nocturnal animals have very sensitive ears and pinpoint the location of the faintest sounds. Their ears are not symmetrical, and their elliptical face allows owls to focus sounds directly on their ears.

Bat

Pallid Bat

Bats have sharp fangs.

©Amanda Guercio/Shutterstock.com

Bats are considerable smaller than owls in general, though some species can get up to 5 feet 7 inches long. Their smaller bodies are less sturdy than the owls. They have small fangs, but these won’t break through the plumage of the owl.

Their wings are made of two layers of skin stretched over bones, which are fragile and delicate, compared to the feathered wings of owls. While some bats have decent eyesight and rely on echolocation to hunt, others have very sensitive vision and depend on sight and smell to find food. All bats can see in pitch black conditions.

Bats can hear a wide range of frequencies, many higher than humans. They can hear the subtle differences between echolocation cries and social calls. They also tuck their ears into their bodies to avoid deafening themselves or cry in frequencies higher than their range.

Endurance

Owl

The Eurasian eagle-owl flying in the forest in the mountains low tatra

Owls can hover in the air for brief periods.

©Jan_Broz/Shutterstock.com

Owls hunt at night and sleep for 10 to 12 hours during the day (though some species are active during other times). Sometimes these birds will travel great distances for migration. When catching prey, owls prefer to wait until they pinpoint the exact location by sight or sound before swooping in for the kill.

These nocturnal birds are able to carry heavy loads in their talons if necessary. They have high metabolisms and must eat frequently. Their endurance is quite average.

Bat

Myotis bat in flight, closeup

Bats are the only flying mammals.

©Beth Ruggiero-York/Shutterstock.com

Bats are also nocturnal creatures that sleep in the day and hunt at night. The mammals roost in groups during the day, usually in places like caves, crevices, and abandoned buildings. These animals usually go into a state of torpor during the roost, which means their bodies drop to between 43- and 86-degrees Fahrenheit.

Their flight requires a decent chunk of energy, meaning that they don’t have the highest endurance. They need to eat large quantities of food to keep up with flying and their high metabolisms.

Bats put their wings through tough work throughout the night, leading the abrasions and injuries. Luckily, the skin on their wings is composed of Merkel cells, which heal very quickly.

Agility

Owl

Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) in flight.

Many owls fly almost silently.

©Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock.com

Owls have wings that are large compared with the size and weight of their bodies. Because of this, they can go great distances and carry heavy loads. Their rounded wings also allow them to swiftly change direction and navigate dense forests. They can maneuver around obstacles quickly and get excellent lift due to the broadness of their wings.

Even though they are quite agile, they are usually less precise compared to other birds.

Will they be able to catch the bat?

Bat

Usa, Arizona, pallid bat, (Antrozous pallidus) Bat drinking

Bats can quickly change their direction of flight.

©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

The bat is one of the most agile creatures in the animal kingdom. Their wings are built with highly sensitive touch sensors that respond to slight changes in airflow. Bats can make split-second changes to their flight that not even owls can.

Bats frequently catch prey midair, using their echolocation and the changes in airflow to predict where insects will be.

Speed

Owl

Great-horned owl flying in the forest on green background, Quebec

Larger owls can fly with more speed than smaller owls due to their wingspan.

©Vladone/iStock via Getty Images

Though they are not the fastest recorded bird, owls can still reach impressive speeds. The species with larger wingspans can fly faster than those with smaller wings. The average speed of owls’ ranges between 10 and 20 miles-per-hour.

Because the owl relies on hunting through sight and sound at night, they are not very fast. These birds of prey prefer swooping and catching compared to chasing.

Bat

Flying Bat Hunting in Forest

The Brazilian free-tailed bat is the

fasted recorded animal in the world,

reaching speeds of over 62 miles per hour.

©Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock.com

Bats have a wide variety of flight speeds depending on the species. The average ranges between 15 miles-per-hour and four and a half miles-per-hour. Though slower than owls, the dime-turn agility of bats works to their advantage.

Intelligence

Owl

Beautiful and impressive smart Great horned owl, Bird of Prey

Owls have keen vision and a sense of hearing unmatched by most other birds.

©agustavop/iStock via Getty Images

Among nocturnal animals, owls are birds of prey and fiercely deadly. However, they are not considered social birds, and have not shown problem-solving abilities. Owls also have very limited vocalizations because they are primarily solitary.

They do not form complex social structures. The majority of their brains are wired to control auditory and optical organs. Owls do not have a Dorsal Ventricular Ridge, which controls avian judgement ability.

Bat

bat with sharp teeth

Bats use echolocation to locate their prey.

©pemastockpic/Shutterstock.com

Bats are social creatures that live in large groups and form roosts as communities. They are able to recognize one another as individuals and form bonds. Bats also have unique social calls that they can distinguish from thousands of other individuals.

In some instances, bats can recall where they previously acquired food. When born in captivity, bats are able to recognize the humans that care for them. Bats have shown problem-solving skills, memory storage, and empathy towards other members of their species.

Behavior

Owl

Pharaoh eagle-owl in Dubai desert in the wild

Owls will eat their prey whole.

©Wirestock/iStock via Getty Images

Owls generally avoid humans when constructing nests. They will readily seek out nests abandoned by other bird species. When they do make their own nests, the structure is hastily thrown together. Materials include feathers and fur from their prey.

These animals live in solitary except to mate. Certain owls will choose one partner to mate with every season while others will raise multiple broods in a single year if there is enough food.

Bat

Allen's big-eared bat (Idionycteris phyllotis)

Bats eat insects, fruits, or nectar.

©Juan Cruzado Cortés / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Bats also avoid humans throughout their lives. They live in highly structured societies in which every bat has a role. They will groom, lick, and scratch themselves for hours between hunts.

The bats that give birth will also form specific colonies during pregnancy and help one another through birth and caring for offspring.

These nocturnal animals will either hibernate every season or migrate to better conditions during the winter.

So, Who Would Win?

In most cases, the owl will win over the bat. The physical features and speed give the owl a distinct advantage. However, since bats navigate the world in colonies and have unmatched agility, they could potentially escape the sharp talons of the owl. Even in these cases, though, a few bats will probably lose their lives.

In most cases, bats and owls do not interact. In tough seasons, however, the owl will target and consume the bat for nutrients.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©


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About the Author

Zoe Carina is a writer at A-Z Animals who primarily covers plants, animals, and places around the world. Zoe has been a professional copywriter and freelancer for six years and holds a bachelors degree in communications from Florida State University, which they earned in 2019. A resident of Oregon, Zoe runs a blog called Intuitive Traveler, where they write about traveling and language learning.

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