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Predation From Great-Horned Owls

This Turkey Tuesday is about predation on adult wild turkeys – in this case, from great-horned owls. When you think about predators that kill adult wild turkeys, you often think about mammals such as coyotes and bobcats. And although those are certainly predators of adults, we see consistent predation on adults from great-horned owls. Interestingly, these owls typically kill adults at the roost site, and they kill toms more often than hens. I suspect that in many cases, toms in particular start gobbling in the morning and horned owls can locate and attack toms while they’re roosting and distracted. Evidence at kill sites is distinctive, in that owls appear to hit the bird and carry them to the ground 20+ yards away from the roost tree – so there is a trail of feathers from the roost tree to the carcass. The owls typically remove the bird’s head, and then remove skin and meat from the breast and legs. But we’ve also seen instances where the bird was killed and no meat was removed, suggesting that the predation event was not directed at food acquisition, which is interesting. The take home is, great horned owls are a relevant predator of adult wild turkeys and leave distinctive pieces of evidence at the scene. Has anyone encountered turkey carcasses during the spring that showed evidence of great horned owls being responsible for the kill?

Pic of tom © Tes Randle Jolly, owl pic by Darcy Daniels.

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5 Responses

  1. I looked it up. Great horned owls weigh 2.5 to 3.5 lbs (female to male). For them to take on a 10 to 25 lb turkey successfully is amazing. Got to be the oversized talons that make it possible.
    Any info on the more numerous barred owl (maxing out at a little over 2 lbs) taking turkeys?

    1. It is amazing, I agree. I think the fact that they hit them on the roost and therefore, are a total surprise, along with the talons offers the owl such an advantage. We don’t have evidence that barred owls take adults, but for certain they prey on poults.

  2. What about other owl species, the common barred owl, other birds? What is the ranking among bird predators on adult turkeys? I’m in sw MS. Thanks

    1. We don’t see predation of adults from barred owls, but I have no doubt they prey on poults. Other birds of prey like red-tailed hawks will take poults, and golden eagles will attack and kill adults as well.

  3. March of 2022. Shed hunting on Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge—North Central Missouri. Along Yellow Creek, three turkey carcasses, no heads, trail of feathers leading to the carcass. Approximately 200 yards from the first carcass to the last. Exactly as described in your article. At the time I was thinking eagles which winter at SWNWR. I think you’re onto something.

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