Owl Chef Cartoon - My Inner Owl

What Do Owls Eat - And What Happens To It?

Owls have very healthy appetites and are natural born predators. They are not exactly picky eaters; insects, spiders, earthworms, snails, crabs, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and small mammals. The menu covers a wide range of gourmet dishes.

Favorites vary among species. For instance, Barn Owls feed mainly on mice, voles and shrews, while the Screech Owl eats mainly insects. Some owls consume up to 25-30% of their own body weight in food daily. This can easily measure up to 12 mice on an average night. In captivity owls eat 10% of their own body weight. To put this in perspective; for humans this number is closer to 2%.

The Bad Dinner Guest

You should think twice before inviting your favorite owl to a fancy restaurant. Fact is; it has rather questionable table manners. Owls prefer to eat their food whole after killing it. If it’s a larger prey they will first rip it into smaller pieces with their powerful beak. Just imagine the look on the faces of the other guests.

What Goes Down - Must Come Up

But wait, there’s more.

Since the owl cannot digest fur, teeth, bones, or feathers, it has to be resourceful. When the softer parts of a prey have been broken down and absorbed, the remaining, indigestible parts are compressed into a pellet, which the owl then regurgitates (coughs up through the beak) and spits out. It’s quite an absurd sight if you haven’t seen it before.

It's Not Poop

These owl pellets are not droppings as some people think. Neither do they come with a funky odor. In fact, they don’t smell at all. This might actually be the most charming fact about the eating owl.

An owl usually coughs up 1-2 pellets daily, often at the same roosting spot, so it’s not unusual to find large quantities of owl pellets in one single place. Do be aware that a pellet is a colony of bacteria and possible infection, such as salmonella. Handle these pellets with care or, preferably, not at all. Owl pellet dissection can be both fun and educational, but be smart about it. Make sure to only use owl pellets that have been sterilized and are safe for human handling. There are a number of suppliers who offer these.

It’s quite amazing, don’t you agree? Even with all these facts on the dinner table, the owl is still the most wonderful creature.

Bon Appétit!

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