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We hadn’t thought much about owls attacking cats until we read an interesting article in a UK newspaper (we’ll link to it below). As natural habitats start disappearing in favour of urban development, many wild birds and animals seek food and shelter in our streets and backyards. They may also share territory with people and other animals, putting them in direct conflict with species they might otherwise ignore. Desperation can also force owls to attack domestic animals like cats and dogs.
Cats are especially at risk as they’re more likely to be outside and unsupervised, hunting for prey at the same time that owls are.
There are breeds of owl that can pick up and kill a cat. These include the Eurasian and Great Horned Owls. They’ve even been known to carry sheep away. The International Owl Centre warns that cats weighing less than 5 pounds are particularly vulnerable. Owners must take special care of kittens in areas where larger breeds of owl hunt.
Owls can attack cats for several reasons. It could be that they’re desperate for food and that hunger will override the usual misgivings about attacking a larger creature. Small cats and kittens might prove too tempting to ignore. Owls will defend territory, too, especially when they have young nearby. They may also be trying to steal prey that the cat has already caught. Remember that cats and owls hunt the same food, including rodents and birds.
Cats are vulnerable in these situations because they won’t expect an aerial attack from another predator—cats like going high and looking down on their surroundings. Our cat does this by sitting on the top perch of her cat tree. Her focus is usually on the floor and at eye level unless something has caught her attention higher up. We have neighbourhood cats who’ll climb trees and fences to scope out the immediate environment, which means they aren’t always looking up. Given that owls have such good hearing and can easily track something as large as a cat from a distance, large owls could quickly attack a cat without the cat noticing.
But we’re talking about large owls. What about barn owls?
It’s hard to imagine a barn owl being able to attack and eat a cat. Barn owls aren’t large at all.
Barn owls are instantly recognisable by their heart-shaped faces and white feathering. According to the discover wildlife website, barn owls measure roughly 25cm from head to feet and have a wingspan of 85cm and can weigh between 330g and 360g. Your cat likely has a much larger body mass, making it difficult to imagine this would be a fair fight.
Barn owls hunt in the open countryside, preying on rodents, rabbits, reptiles and amphibians. It’s interesting to note that while barn owls hunt during the evening, they also hunt during the daytime in the UK, which is important for the report about the owl attack we mentioned earlier.
One man witnessed a suspected barn owl dive-bombing his small Bengal cat. A local expert believed this attack was because it was the start of mating season. It could have been an attempt to protect its territory. The man says that the cat quickly got out of the way but that he was in no doubt the owl meant to do some severe damage.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that a barn owl will attack if it feels threatened, but it isn’t very likely for a barn owl to eat a cat. If you live in an area where there are other types of owls – larger ones like we mentioned, you should be more cautious.
Keeping your cat indoors during the night will help. Supervising any trips outside during that period should help too. Some people build outdoor runs for cats in the evening. We have heard how several owners use plastic owls to discourage owls, moving these fakes around to fool owls into thinking that a specific territory is already taken.