If you are reading this post it is most probably because you have been on a walk and seen what appears to be an owl sitting on the ground and wondered if this is normal or a cause for concern. In this post, I will aim to explain why Owls may be spotted sitting on the ground rather than sitting in a tree like we would expect.
So why would an owl sit on the ground? To answer the question in short then an owl sitting on the ground isn’t always a cause for concern. Owls may sit on the ground if they are hunting for food or if they are young fledglings getting used to flying and exploring and often their parents are keeping an eye on the owlet and will defend the owlet from harm if necessary. Owls found on the ground that are a cause for concern are those that are sick or trapped and need some help with their escape and recovery.
Therefore in summary, the main reasons you will find an owl sitting on the ground would be:
- Feeding / hunting
First, its important to figure out whether the owl is sitting on the ground by choice or if it is sitting on the ground because it is injured or entangled in something and cannot escape. If you walk slowly towards the owl it should flee eventually when you get too close because owls are not very sociable creatures. If the owl does not flee then this is probably quite concerning and then it is a good idea to figure out if the owl needs some assistance.
In other cases, some people will mention that they saw an owl on the ground but once they approached it, the owl flew quickly away up into the trees. This most probably means that the owl had purposefully landed to perhaps catch some prey and have a bit of a forage for food and was otherwise completely fine. We learn from a young age that owls are these mysterious birds that sit high up in trees and are rarely ever seen, so when we see them on the ground in the middle of the day then it completely throws us off because it doesn’t fit with what we thought we knew. The good news is that sometimes the knowledge we have isn’t always the case and sometimes owls may act in ways we find surprising but it is actually completely normal.
lets take a more detailed look into the above bullet points and explain why these things can lead to an owl sitting on the ground.
Hunting for Prey / Eating
It seems strange to imagine an owl hunting for their food on foot but this isn’t completely out of the ordinary, for example Barred owls are known to hunt amphibians on foot and if they are nearby a body of water, often owls will decide to stay on foot so they can wade into the water to find fish and crawdads. We imagine that an owl will spot its prey from high in flight and swoop, capture and then take off again with their prey in tow but this isn’t always the case and is actually much closer to the behaviour of Hawks. Owls might decide to land on top of their prey and sit on them while they crush the life out of them (lovely I know), once the prey has died the owl may then fly off but this can take a few minutes and therefore you might spot the owl on the ground whilst this takes place. Likewise, until the owl was disturbed by a passerby, the owl may have landed to collect their prey and settled for a second as there was no direct urgency to leave immediately.
Sick / Poorly
If the owl does not flee and instead seems ruffled, eyes drowsy and has other indications that they appear sick then this might be more of a concern and the owl might need some assistance. If this is the case then please read my other blog post – What Do I Do If I Find A Baby Owl? to find out what is the best method of dealing with this scenario as it can relate to an owl of any age. Sometimes an owl may be physically injured, perhaps they have clipped their wings on a barbed wire fence and after a fight to release itself it is left to rest on the ground. A prolonged struggle to release itself from this scenario could lead to extensive soft tissue damage, puncture wounds and wing fractures so if the owl appears injured or sick I would recommend passing the owl onto a qualified veterinarian for assistance.
Trapped / Captured
Sadly sometimes an owl can get caught in traps / netting / litter / mud / water sources etc and this entanglement can be dangerous for the owls. The owl can be injured by being caught or they could be stuck for so long that they die from hunger and dehydration. If you ever see a trapped owl, you must assist to help the owl to free themselves as the owl would meet its demise regardless if it didn’t get free so in this scenario it is always better to assist in my opinion.
It can be very hard to assist a wild bird to get free from entanglement as they will panic and struggle making it harder for everyone. It is better to have a few pair of hands to help out so that someone can hold the owls wings firm and still and then another person can cut any netting. If a trap is involved please be careful and contact somebody who knows what they are doing. Never try to remove a live trap yourself if you do not know what to do as you may also end up injured. If you have to remove an owl trapped in a body of water then the owl will probably be exhausted from low body heat and low blood sugar and will need to be warmed and fed as soon as they are dried off. Owls are not waterproof and really struggle when they are submerged in water so in this scenario please ensure the owl can gain some heat immediately and provide plenty of water, always avoid chilling or dehydrating the owl.
Age of Owl
Owlets (young owls) are known to leave the nest and explore and often this may mean the Owlet is alone on the ground. This might seem concerning but it is actually a very normal part of the owls development and the parents usually know exactly where their young are and if that means they’re out of the nest and on the ground somewhere nearby, often the parents will still feed the owlet. If the owlet is not hurt or in direct danger then you can normally assume the owlet is fine and this is just a normal part of their development. The owlet has to become independent and exploring away from the nest before leaving the nest completely is an important part of the process. Owls are at more danger on the ground this is true, but sadly we must let these wild birds take the natural risks that their species have always taken and not always get involved. Sometimes human involvement can make a very controlled situation into a mess. Once the owl is handled and moved, the parents may not find the owlet again, then they are likely to die of starvation anyway whereas if they were left alone then they would have been fine. That’s not to say never interfere – please read my other post ‘What Do I Do If I Find A Baby Owl?‘ with more detail on how to know when the right time to intervene is.
In conclusion I hope this has maybe calmed some of your worries about seeing an owl on the ground and if you believe that the owl does need some intervention, please make sure you do this safely, with the owls best interests at heart. It is legal to intervene and pass an owl onto a professional for further care but it is not legal to remove a wild bird from its environment and keep this owl in your own care for longer than 48 hours.