There are more than 225 different species of owls that can be found across the world. They come in all sizes, between the small and aptly named Little Owl, all the way through to the Blakiston fish owl, which is the largest owl in the world. Because of the vast number of species across the entire range, an owl's diet varies tremendously. But do owls eat snakes? If so, which ones do, and how do they catch them? In this article, we'll try and answer all of those questions.
Yes, owls do, in fact, eat snakes and are quite fond of them. 4 main species of owls are known to consume snakes; these include the Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Barred Owl and Burrowing Owls. Owls are opportunistic hunters and don't actively seek out snakes but will happily hunt and eat them when available.
Continue reading to find out about how owls catch the snakes and what types of snakes they eat.
Burrowing Owl eating a smooth green snake
The types of snakes that owls eat depend on what kind of snakes are small enough to overpower and which snake species can be found in their habitat.
The Great Horned Owl is a large owl that can be found across all parts of North America and the majority of South America. Because of this large range, they have one of the most diverse habitats and diets. They can be found in deserts, forests, grassland and suburban areas.
Great Horned Owls prey on mainly small and medium-sized prey, such as rabbits and hares. Snakes are not the main part of their diets.
Eastern Screech Owls mainly eat snakes like the common garter, rat snake and eastern hognose. These snakes are small enough for the relatively small owl to successfully hunt and can be found across their natural habitat in woodland, forests and suburban areas.
Barred Owls are medium-sized owls and eat snakes, including the rat snake, common garter and ribbon snake.
Burrowing Owls are small owls that nest on the ground and will mainly prey on smaller snakes that they can easily overpower. They are known to prey and hunt snakes like smooth green snakes.
Common types of snakes certain owl species eat:
Eagle Owl pouncing on prey
Owls have binocular vision, where both their eyes face towards - like us humans. This is unlike other birds, which mostly have eyes on the sides of their heads. Because of this, owls have excellent depth perception, which is required to make judgements on the distances required to strike their prey, and in this case, it couldn't be any more important when dealing with snakes that can be deadly.
Their keen eyesight, paired with their ability to strike unsuspecting prey silently, means that they can hunt snakes effectively. Once they swoop down and strike, owls use their powerful talons to grab the snakes from the ground to take off to a branch to consume.
When snakes are off the ground, they are pretty much helpless and cannot reach the owl to strike it and fight back since there is no ground below to support the snake's body. Snakes have strong belly muscles, but to utilise these to move or strike need a surface below. Because of this, once the owls have caught them, snakes become the owls next dinner without any chance of escaping.