Do Owls Hibernate or Migrate? 🦉 (Answered)

No, Owls don’t need to hibernate and they rarely migrate. Owls have some amazing adaptations to hunt rodents and other small animals. This helps them feed through the whole year.

No, Owls don’t need to hibernate and they rarely migrate. Owls have some amazing adaptations to hunt rodents and other small animals. This helps them feed through the whole year.

Do Owls Hibernate In Winter?

Snowy Owl – Bubo scandiacus, female perched on a stump during a snowfall.

In the deepest, darkest winter – this silent hunter is cruising the woodland edge listening out for the sound of footsteps under the snow. Owls have the perfect adaptations to feed throughout the winter – at night. So why would they hibernate?

Hibernating is a survival tactic used when either there isn’t enough food to sustain the animal through the colder months – or the winter months are just too cold. However, as owls have a magnificent set of thermally-efficient feathers and can catch rodents in almost pitch-black conditions in the coldest of weathers – they just work right on through.

Owls have No need to hibernate.

Do Owls Migrate In Winter?

Usually, if an animal doesn’t hibernate in cold weather – it often migrates instead. However, this also isn’t true for most owls as they have evolved to be perfect for exactly where they are.

Eating mice and other small rodents and birds in the colder regions means that there will always be food for them no matter where they are. Barn Owls often hang around farmsteads for this exact reason – barns and farms are a great year-round source of rodents (something the farmers actively encourage). In woodlands and prairies – the same is true. Wherever there are rodents – there are owls.

The U.S. has 19 different recognized owl species from the tiny Elf Owl to the giant Great Horned Owl; from the magnificent Eastern Screech Owl to the world-famous Snowy Owl. Owls coat the globe (except the extreme poles) because they are able to hunt whatever lives in abundance. Therefore, there is no need to migrate anywhere because of food shortages.

Saying that though, owls will sometimes travel to new areas when there is an abundance of food or it is easier to catch. Why not take advantage?

Snowy Owls have been known to often travel to other areas to take advantage of a better hunting environment. Barn Owls have been known to travel short distances to feed too. They don’t always do this annually though – or follow exact routes at exact times – so it isn’t a true migration.

How Do Owls Survive In Winter?

Cold is only relative of course. Many animals don’t feel or react to ‘cold’ in the same way as we humans do. We would freeze stone-cold out overnight in deep snow – even in great clothes – but owls hunt best at night and in deep snow – so they must cope with the cold in a completely different way.

And here’s how:

Special Feathers:

Owls can’t add on a layer of fat as it would make them too heavy to fly – so instead all birds (including owls) produce many more down feathers in the fall ready for winter. These short, soft feathers trap a lovely warm layer of air around the body – under the main feathers. Fluffing these feathers out and shivering helps to warm up that air too – and create a thicker layer – keeping their core temperature higher that just normal feathers would.

Special Feet:

Owls have a special blood flow system in their legs and feet to protect them from cold damage. Their outer skin on their feet still gets very cold, but it isn’t affected in the same way a human skin as these clever birds have made some amazing changes.

Not only do owls have hardly any pain receptors or fluid in their lower legs (so they don’t suffer from the effects of frostbite) – they also have a counter-current system to help them ‘feel’ warmer. The blood returning to the body from the feet sucks warm air from the freshly-oxygenated blood travelling from the heart down to the toes. This way, not only does the cold blood coming up from the feet get warm again before entering the body; the blood heading to the toes doesn’t lose valuable heat out to the environment. Genius.

Special Ears:

Owls are famous for their hearing – and it is this what gets them through the winter. Due to their strange off-centre ears (one is higher than the other) and their facial disks (feathers aiming sound directly into their ear canals) they can hear the sound of their prey moving and pinpoint it exactly. Even under a foot of snow.

Nothing can help save their tiny rodents once an owl has located them – and as the owls also have silent flight feathers – the mouse or vole won’t hear a thing…