What Do Barn Owls Eat? 25 Foods They Consume

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: September 19, 2022
Image Credit Monika Surzin/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points:

  • Owls are carnivores. They rely on many types of rodents, amphibians, birds, and insects for food.
  • Owls are nocturnal and do most of their hunting at night.
  • Owls consume 10% of their body weight in food every night.

Barn owls are medium-sized birds of prey with excellent low-light vision and a striking appearance. They have powerful talons and hooked beaks for grasping and tearing prey. These pale and dark-eyed creatures are farmers’ best friends due to their strong preference for rodents. But what happens if barn owls don’t find any mice and rats to eat? What other foods do barn owls eat apart from rodents?

This article is a comprehensive guide on what barn owls eat, how they hunt their prey, and how much they eat, alongside other questions that will help you understand the diet of these wild birds. 

What Foods Do Barn Owls Eat?

What Do Barn Owls Eat
Barn owls eat rodents as a primary form of prey, but will also eat amphibians, small birds, and invertebrates.

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Barn owls are carnivores who rely on meat. They are birds of prey who eat reptiles, fish, amphibians, rodents, rabbits, small foxes, and other small birds. Overall, there are about 16 species of barn owls. For example, we have the African, Australian, Asian, and European barn owls.

List of Rodents and Mammals That Barn Owls Eat

  • Voles
  • Mice
  • Lemmings
  • Rats
  • Rabbits
  • Shrews

List of Reptiles and Amphibians that Barn Owls Eat

  • Non-poisonous snakes
  • Anoles
  • Geckos
  • Skinks
  • Toads
  • Frogs
  • Newts

List of Other Small Birds That Barn Owls Eats

  • Blackbirds
  • Sparrows
  • Meadowlarks
  • Starlings

List of Invertebrates That Barn Owls Eats

  • Spiders
  • Earthworms
  • Centipedes
  • Snails
  • Crickets
  • Moths
  • Crabs
  • Beetles

How Do Barn Owls Hunt for Food?

Animals That Mate for Life: Barn Owl
Barn owls are nocturnal and hunt for their prey at night.

Joanne Harris and Daniel Bubnich/Shutterstock.com

Barn owls are often seen searching for prey either in a slow, low flight or perched somewhere they can clearly observe the ground. They swoop down to catch the prey the moment they spot or hear one. 

You may also observe barn owls snatching insects out of mid-air because not all creatures can always be picked from the ground.

At What Time Do Barn Owls Hunt for Food?

Barn owls actively hunt their prey in darkness because they are nocturnal birds. There is an exception during winter because they may be forced to hunt during the day in order for them to survive. During the winter, the prey becomes more scarce, which forces the birds to hunt for longer periods.

There’s quite a bit of silence during the night. This is why barn owls prefer hunting in darkness and utilize their sense of hearing to trace prey. With their excellent hearing and ability to strike from above, a croaking frog may not evade the barn owl’s sharp talons!

What Are Barn Owls’ Favorite Food?

Rodents, especially mice and rats, are barn owls’ favorite food. But it’s not every day they will come across rodents. Nevertheless, barn owls are opportunistic hunters, meaning they can easily adapt whenever there is a scarcity of their preferred prey. 

So, barn owls normally eat other creatures like lizards and frogs not because it’s their choice but because they need to survive.

How Much Do Barn Owls Eat?

The quantity of food consumed by barn owls depends on their body weight. Barn owls eat approximately 10% of their body weight on an average day. For example, a barn owl weighing 620g eats 62g of food per day. Though they normally exceed 10% most days. 

According to research carried out by small-mammal communities in the Mediterranean region, an adult barn owl eats 3-4 prey at night. However, this varies many times, because they might not be able to hunt quite well due to unfavorable conditions like heavy rain or wind. The prey may be scarce as well and they will have to eat less than their body requires.

What Can I Feed My Pet Barn Owls?

Barn Owl in flight
Feeding a pet barn owl 10% of their body weight per day is advisable.

Russ Heinl/Shutterstock.com

Since most countries do not allow you to keep barn owls as pets, it’s important that you first check your country’s laws before keeping one. 

You can feed your pet barn owls with dead day-old chicks, rats, and mice. It’s also advisable that you supplement minerals and vitamins, but be careful not to overdo it. An adult barn owl may eat 3 voles per night, which is equivalent to 2-3 dead day-old chicks. 

Again, this depends on your bird’s weight. So, you will need to adjust the quantity according to the amount the owl is eating. While some owls may eat 2 voles, others might eat 3 voles.

Do Barn Owls Chew Food?

Barn owls don’t chew food because they don’t have teeth. They tear the prey into smaller pieces using their sharp beaks and talons. They then swallow the pieces together with the skulls and bones. 

On some occasions where the prey is too small, barn owls don’t tear it but they will rather swallow the prey as a whole. The undigested parts like the bones and skulls are then regurgitated later.

What Do Barn Owls Eat in the Winter?

Barn owls eat a variety of prey during winter, including mammals and small birds. This is because deep snows make hunting rodents difficult for barn owls. According to studies carried out by North-Western Journal of Zoology, there was a reduced intake of rodents by barn owls during winter as compared to other seasons. 

Rodents and other mammals spend most of their time underneath snow during winter. So, barn owls will have no other choice but to survive on any prey that they come across.

What Do Barn Owls Eat in the Summer?

Barn owls mostly feed on rodents during summer. More than 90% of a barn owl’s diet is made up of mice, voles, and rats during summer. Voles are easy to catch in the summer. Barn owls also hunt for insects such as spiders and beetles during summer.

What Do Barn Owls Eat in the Spring?

During the early spring, barn owls eat smaller burrowing creatures like lizards and moles. Barn owls also eat quite a lot of insects in the spring. Their diet mainly consists of smaller creatures as they are easily accessible during spring.

What Do Barn Owls Eat in the Fall?

Mostly rodents. The fall season is normally characterized by longer nights and shorter days. So, barn owls have more time to hunt during the nights. However, they won’t limit their hunting to rodents only but will eat various kinds of reptiles, insects, and small birds.

How Does the Diet of Barn Owls Impact Other Species?

Barn owls play an important role in the ecosystem, controlling the population of other smaller birds and animals. Humans benefit in one way or another, especially when the population of rodents is greatly reduced by barn owls. This means the amount of human food destroyed by rodents will be greatly reduced.

Barn owls’ ability to control rodents is greatly appreciated by farmers more than the use of poison, traps, and cats to catch rodents. Barn owls’ main target areas are the agricultural fields where they can easily access rodents, their most preferred prey.

What Eats Barn Owls?

Barn owls have fewer enemies globally, but goshawks and buzzards are well known to eat barn owls. Sick and injured barn owls have a very low chance of escaping a predator. A baby owl is always in danger of being eaten by a cat in case it falls off its nest. 

Therefore, baby owls should always be placed back in their nest in time before they encounter a predator.

What Do Baby Barn Owls Eat?

Just like their parents, baby owls also eat meat. Baby barn owls cannot open their eyes until they are 10 days old. That is why they rely entirely on their parents to give them food until they are 3-5 months old. This means they don’t have much of a choice when it comes to food preferences. 

Foods to Avoid When Feeding a Pet Barn Owl

Do not feed your pet barn owl the following:

  • Deep frozen food
  • Wild rats unless you’re sure they are free from rodenticides
  • Pigeons as they normally carry a number of avian diseases
  • Rabbits because they are too big and you might choke your barn owl even if it has been chopped.
  • Avoid dead animals and rodents unless you know their cause of death.

Final Thoughts

Barn owls have a varied diet. They feed exclusively on almost any small animal and bird they come across. Like many owls, they use sound to locate prey. Barn owls are some of the most unique, gorgeous, and striking birds who are rarely a problem to humans, especially ranchers and farmers. In fact, barn owls are referred to as farmers’ best friends due to their ability to reduce the rodent population on farms.

NEXT UP…

Magnificent Barn Owl perched on a stump in the forest (Tyto alba)

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

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