Owl Eats Owl

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Barred Owl eating a Barred Owl. / © John Llloyd

Barred Owl eating a Barred Owl. / © John Llloyd

I was on my way to an event at the school gym here in Strafford, Vermont, the other evening when I was called over by a bunch of kids who said they found an owl that they thought was sick or hurt because it was perched on a picnic table and didn’t fly away when it was approached.

An hour or so later I walked over to the playground and found a Barred Owl still perched on the picnic table. It didn’t move when I approached, but instead it began mantling. Mantling is a behavior that vultures and birds of prey engage in when they have a prey item on the ground. They crouch and spread their wings in an apparent effort to hide the carcass from other birds that might like to steal a bite. Almost every nature documentary ever made in the Serengeti has at least one shot of a vulture mantling over a dead wildebeest, trying desperately (and usually futilely) to keep the bounty for itself.

When I got closer, I realized that this owl WAS trying to hide something that it was eating – another Barred Owl!

You can see the feathers from the victim spread across the table. I don’t know whether this particular owl had killed the other one, or whether it simply had the good fortune of finding the carcass. Barred Owls are known to scavenge on carcasses of a variety of animals, but observations in the Pacific Northwest suggest that they will at least occasionally attack and even kill the closely related Northern Spotted Owl. Reports of Barred Owls killing other Barred Owls are lacking, and so we have to assume that this is not a common event.

In any case, this Barred Owl spent several hours feeding on the carcass and, by the scanty remains left the following morning, must have spent most of the day digesting this rather sizable holiday meal.

Barred Owl eating a Barred Owl. / © John Llloyd

Barred Owl eating a Barred Owl. / © John Llloyd

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Comments (13)

  1. Mark says:

    We know that owls will kill other species of owls, but how did you know this one killed the other? You said you were shown an owl eating another. That constitutes cannibalism, but did anybody actually see the owl kill the other one? If not, this is just speculation. Owls do scavenge too. If somebody actually saw the kill, then that should be included in the story

    • DidYouMissThis? says:

      Mark,

      From paragraph four: “I don’t know whether this particular owl had killed the other one, or whether it simply had the good fortune of finding the carcass.”

    • Clay says:

      I thought John was quite clear with his sentence: “I don’t know whether this particular owl had killed the other one, or whether it simply had the good fortune of finding the carcass.”

    • John Lloyd says:

      No, as I said in the blog entry, I have no idea whether this is a case of
      scavenging or predation.

  2. erik says:

    Hi Mark, Please read the post again. Your answer is deftly hidden in the words.

  3. grace claster says:

    Whatever the cause of this meal, it is quite interesting. Thanks for all the info you shared. grace

  4. grace claster says:

    I found this very interesting, no matter the reason for this meal.

  5. Nel says:

    I have a barred owl visiting at my house and birdfeeder right now, nearing dusk, in the woods of central Vermont. My second sighting in one week. And my second sighting in 8 years.

    I wonder if they are having trouble capturing the usual prey species due to the thick, hard layered snow cover. The one here is watching the rodents under snow and also the chickadees (and me, if I peer out the window, although I feel safe indoors).

    Thanks for sharing the rather curious sighting in Strafford.

  6. Ned says:

    I drove to CT on Sat (12/27) and counted 5 road-killed barred owls between Sharon VT and Holyoke MA on I 89 and I 91. The dense snow pack must have had an incredible effect on the birds.

  7. Mark Alexander says:

    My wife and I saw a barred owl attack and eat another barred owl right next to our bird feeders yesterday evening, around sunset. It was quite a shock. We think it was probably starvation, not territory protection, because the victor carried off the loser after tearing it up a bit.

    This was in central Vermont, in a wooded rural area. We’d been seeing barred owls hanging around the feeders recently, and just the day before had seen one catch a mouse in the snow. But we never expected to see cannibalism.

    • Wow! Now that is an incredible sighting. You actually saw one in the act. Do you have any photos? It is becoming more and more clear that these guys will take each other if they can or have to. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Will S says:

    I just found a similar situation in Williston. Walking through the woods, I spooked a larger barred owl that had a smaller barred owl in its talons. It ended up dropping its prey/meal. One wing and the head were missing.

  9. Incredoble points. Sound arguments. Keep up the amazing work.

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