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Nature Notebook – Owls eat Carrion

It’s family planning time for owls in Michigan. The larger species, Great Horned and Barred, may already have owlets. It seems like poor planning to have babies during the season with the smallest amount of food available.

However, owls have developed some strategies to deal with the shortage. First, they’re not picky. If something moves and they can catch it, owls will eat it. If they have leftovers, owls cache the food in a tree and let the frigid temperatures preserve it. They sit on the frozen food to thaw portions when they are ready to eat again.

In addition to not caring what they catch, owls will also feed on dead animal carcasses. Until relatively recently carrion was not considered to be part of the owl diet. The advent of trail camera use for wildlife study provided numerous, surprising examples of owls consuming carrion.

The lack of evidence of this food source in pellet analysis is now thought to be a result of examiner bias. Hairs from larger mammals were believed to have been transferred from other sources. More careful studies are now in the works.