Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Barn Owl Question: Will they kill rats?

When I was in San Francisco I was talking w/ the people from the Hungry Owl project. They install owl boxes in areas that have rodent infestations all over San Francisco and the owls clean up the rodents. It's brilliant and avoids the needless use of poisons that can end up in the bodies of cats and dogs, not just rats and mice. It could even end up killing children. The owl boxes are working.

However, they claim that Barn Owls will kill and eat rats. I've NEVER heard of such a thing in all my years nor have I ever observed it - not once in the wild. But they say that the female, who is 1/3 larger, will go after rats, and that one reason there's such a disparity in the size between the male and female bird of prey in general, but owls especially, is so that there's a broader range of possible prey. In my world, all barn owls, male or female, eat mice and voles, not rats. Has anyone else heard of barn owls killing live rats in the wild? I hope they are not just very anxious for it to be true, so that barn owls can solve rat problems as well as mouse problems. If they don't, they don't.

But they did relate a story of a wild female barn owl choking on a rat skull, which interested me, because we had seen that in a situation where rat carcasses were being fed to barn owls (a LONG time ago). So the female barn owl had to have gotten that rat from somewhere. It's a mystery!

Any comments?



jackie said...

Stacey, I just finished your book, and I had to let you know how wonderful it was! I felt like an owl, waiting 'til sundown to crack open Wesley's story. The part where he hugs you brought tears to my eyes. It was also good to read because it revealed how much knowledge, patience and dedication it takes to keep a wild animal as a pet, and that this is something only professionals such as yourself should undertake. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Dadu said...


After you wrote this post when did you first discover that barn owls do, indeed, catch rats? It has been amazing to me, watching M&M, the huge prey those little owls bring in. It looks like the pray can almost be as big as they are. How to they kill the prey? Do they use their talons to stab them or what?

W. said...

Hi Stacy,

talk about rats... How about rabbits?

This year I got to watch a pair of owls raising their second clutch in a box called "The Hideout", to be found at

A very good box, if I may say so: The guy who operates it has a big interest in his privacy, it's all about the owls and keeping them healthy. The box comes with a teriffic branching system and even has a waterhose running up, with a mister attached to keep the box cool on hot days. So far the box has seen three successfull rising of clutches to adulthood, and the only "loss" of an owlet was an egg, that just didn't hatch.

Anyway: This spring the larger part of the owlets' diet consisted of… rabbits. It's not that this was some kind of desparate measure and watchers were quite surprised, too. As of now the delivered on camera rabbit count stands at 296! And also a huge number of mice, voles, gophers and yes, rats. Actually food was so plenty, that oftenly the father, Roy he got named, could usually rest at already 03:00AM sometimes 04:00AM but always well before sunrise. And usually there was quite a pile of leftovers, the owlets, Ellie, Clark and Dee snacked on during the day. One of the most funny moments was, when Roy appeared with a fat gopher in beak, landed behind Dee, who's quite the "bottomless owl" but was not getting rid of the gopher, because Dee was so full. He was waiting paitently there for well over 2 minutes:

BTW, the mother, Dale, joined hunting with Roy when the owls were at about 30 days old.

So some owls really go for the BIG game.

W. said...

Oh, and forgot this one here:

IMHO very funny to watch, although Dee looks quite miserable inbetween. This just like watching a human child having bigger eyes than stomach and overfeeding on candy.