Great Horned Owl Diet: What Do Great Horned Owls Eat?

Great Horned Owls are fascinating birds, known for their distinctive hooting and impressive hunting skills. Understanding what Great Horned Owls eat is not just interesting, but it also gives us insights into their role in the ecosystem. These owls have a diverse diet, ranging from small mammals to other birds, showing their adaptability in different environments. This article explores the varied menu of the Great Horned Owl, revealing the vast array of prey they consume. By learning about their diet, we can appreciate the complexity and balance of nature where these majestic birds thrive.

What Does a Great Horned Owl Prey On?

Great Horned Owls are skilled hunters, known for their varied and extensive diet. They are not picky eaters and will hunt a range of different animals. This section breaks down the types of prey these owls typically feast on, highlighting their versatility and adaptability in hunting.


One of the primary components of a Great Horned Owl’s diet is mammals. These birds of prey are particularly fond of rodents, which form a substantial part of their diet. They are adept at hunting mice, rats, and even larger mammals like rabbits and squirrels. Their powerful talons and acute night vision make them formidable hunters, capable of capturing prey in complete darkness. This ability to hunt various mammals is crucial for their survival, especially in areas where other food sources might be scarce.


In addition to mammals, Great Horned Owls also prey on other birds. They are known to hunt a range of bird species, from small songbirds to larger birds like ducks and geese. Even other raptors, such as hawks and smaller owls, can become prey for these versatile hunters. The Great Horned Owl’s silent flight and surprise attack tactics make them effective at catching these avian prey. This aspect of their diet showcases their adaptability and the vital role they play in controlling the bird population in their habitat.

Other Prey

Great Horned Owls don’t just stop at mammals and birds; their diet also includes a variety of other creatures. They are known to eat insects, fish, and amphibians, showing their ability to adapt to different food sources. This varied diet helps them thrive in various habitats.

A Complete List of Food Eaten By Great Horned Owl

  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Rabbits
  • Squirrels
  • Smaller owls
  • Ducks
  • Geese
  • Snakes
  • Lizards
  • Frogs
  • Various insects
  • Fish (occasionally)
  • Carrion (dead animals, occasionally)

How and When Do Great Horned Owls Hunt?

Great Horned Owls are exceptional hunters, known for their distinct hunting methods and times. Primarily, these owls are nocturnal, meaning they hunt at night. Their night hunting is supported by their remarkable vision and hearing, allowing them to detect prey even in low light conditions. The silence of their flight, thanks to their specialized feathers, makes them almost undetectable as they approach their prey.

The hunting strategy of a Great Horned Owl involves perching silently and scanning the area for potential prey. Once they spot a target, they swoop down swiftly and silently to capture it with their powerful talons. These birds are also known for their patience; they can wait for long periods before attacking at the perfect moment.

Apart from their nocturnal habits, Great Horned Owls may also hunt during the day, especially when feeding their young or during the shorter days of winter. This adaptability in their hunting times is a testament to their survival skills in various environments.

The hunting grounds of Great Horned Owls are diverse. They can be found in forests, deserts, and even urban areas. Their ability to adapt to different habitats is remarkable, as they can hunt effectively whether in open fields or dense woods.

In summary, the hunting prowess of Great Horned Owls is a combination of their nocturnal habits, silent flight, powerful talons, and adaptability to various environments. Their hunting techniques are a crucial aspect of their survival and play a significant role in maintaining the balance in the ecosystems they inhabit.

Great Horned Owl Competitors for Food

In the wild, Great Horned Owls face competition for food from various other predators. This competition plays a significant role in their hunting habits and diet choices. Key competitors include other large raptors, like Red-tailed Hawks and Eagle Owls. These birds of prey often hunt for similar types of animals, such as small mammals and birds, leading to a natural rivalry.

Additionally, ground predators like foxes and coyotes also compete with Great Horned Owls for food. These animals hunt for similar prey, especially rodents and rabbits. In areas where these ground predators are abundant, Great Horned Owls might find it more challenging to hunt, leading them to adjust their hunting territories or target different prey.

Another factor affecting their diet is human activity. Changes in land use, such as urban development and farming, can alter the population and types of available prey. This forces Great Horned Owls to adapt their hunting strategies and sometimes rely on less preferred prey.

Despite these challenges, Great Horned Owls are versatile and resilient hunters. They can adapt their diet based on the availability of prey and the presence of competitors. Their ability to adjust to different environments and compete with other predators is crucial for their survival and demonstrates the dynamic nature of food webs in their habitats.


In conclusion, the diet of Great Horned Owls is remarkably diverse, encompassing everything from small mammals and birds to insects and amphibians. Their adaptability in hunting different prey, combined with their nocturnal habits and silent flight, makes them top predators in their ecosystems. The way these owls adapt their diet based on the availability of prey and competition from other predators highlights their resilience and versatility. For wildlife enthusiasts and researchers, understanding what Great Horned Owls eat and their hunting habits offers valuable insights into the balance of nature and the interdependence of species. This knowledge is essential for conserving these majestic birds and their habitats, ensuring they continue to thrive and maintain the ecological balance.

Great Horned Owl Diet: What Do Great Horned Owls Eat? – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do great horned owls eat cats?

Great Horned Owls can occasionally prey on small cats, especially if other food sources are scarce. However, this is not typical behavior and happens rarely. They usually prefer hunting wild animals and smaller mammals like rodents.

What do great horned owls eat the most?

Great Horned Owls most commonly eat small mammals, particularly rodents like mice and rats. These small creatures are abundant and easy for the owls to catch, making them a staple in their diet. Birds and insects are also frequent parts of their diet.

What is the largest prey for a great horned owl?

The largest prey for a Great Horned Owl can be animals as big as skunks or even young deer. These owls have powerful talons and are capable hunters, allowing them to take down larger prey when smaller animals are not available.

Can a great horned owl pick up a dog?

A Great Horned Owl could potentially pick up a very small dog, but this is extremely rare. They usually target animals that are easier to handle, like rodents and small birds. Larger dogs are not typical prey for these owls.