Small mammals make up the majority of food sources for many predator animals, including owls, which means they will absolutely attack and eat rabbits if the opportunity presents itself. Owls can spot a small rabbit from quite a long distance away. Furthermore, larger owls and other birds of prey can carry off adult rabbits.
Domestic rabbits should be kept in hutches or cages at night not just to protect them against the cold but also against predators like birds of prey, foxes, and other animals.
Owls and Hunting
Owls are opportunistic predators, which means that they will hunt and eat anything available to them, whether small rodents or larger mammals. They are patient, have excellent hearing, and tend to be nocturnal, which means they do the majority of their hunting at night. Almost all species of owls can and will hunt rabbits because they are a good food source.
Rabbits have many predators, and perhaps for this reason, they are naturally crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, affording them the best opportunity to evade predators that are most active at day (such as hawks or eagles) and night (such as owls). Nonetheless, many wild rabbits do end up on the menu for many predators, including owls.
What Weight Can an Owl Pick Up?
Different species of owl can carry different weights, mainly due to the difference in the size of the owl itself. Generally speaking, all owls are extremely strong for their relative size and can easily carry prey that is heavier than they are. Being predators, all owls have an incredible amount of strength in their talons and can insert a remarkable amount of pressure onto any prey they grasp. Larger species of owls have been documented carrying off rabbits and hares.
Protecting Pet Rabbits from Predators
If you are looking to protect your rabbits from predatory owls, your best bet is to provide them with cover. Domestic rabbits should be kept in a hutch or cage at night because these provide overhead protection. They can also provide a barrier against foxes and other wild animals that would consider your rabbit to be a tasty treat.
Are Rabbits Afraid of Owls?
Rabbits are prey animals. They have a natural dislike of predators like owls. This fear helps them survive, but it can also be mimicked to keep the animal away from your grass or plants. That said, rabbits do learn, so if you put up a scare owl, it may deter rabbits for a while, but they will eventually determine that the item is not a threat and they will return to eat your seedlings and lawn patch.
Other Birds of Prey
Many other birds of prey may pose a threat to pet rabbits as well.
Sparrowhawks are quite small birds of prey, and it is unlikely that they would be able to carry off a fully grown adult rabbit. They may attempt to kill any kits that they see, however, as the larger female sparrowhawks can kill prey up to 500 grams (approximately a pound) in weight.
The red kite is often perceived as a scavenger but does possess the ability to hunt as well. They will readily attempt to prey on any rabbits if the opportunity arises. Younger rabbits are more vulnerable to these birds.
Kestrels will eat voles, mice, shrews, and small birds. They will even eat earthworms, a testament to their remarkable adaptive abilities for the prey available to them. Adult kestrels have been documented carrying stoats, which means they can definitely make a meal out of a rabbit.
Owls are highly skilled hunters, and they do enjoy eating small mammals and other small prey. Some species of owl are large enough to take down an adult rabbit and carry it away, and almost all are capable of killing a kitten rabbit. Keeping pet rabbits in a hutch to protect them from owls and other natural predators is your best bet.
Featured Image Credit: Richard Lee, Unsplash