Do barred owls just keel over and die?

Asked April 9, 2019, 1:21 PM EDT

Hello. I came across a youngish barred owl the other day on a walk, and it looked as though it had fallen from a tree very suddenly. Its feet were still in that rigid roosting grip and its wings were tight against its body. Also it was entirely intact--no blood and no predation, though it looked as though it had been dead for a day or maybe longer. I thought it might have died of a heart attack, but the internet seems to contradict this. Any theories? Could it have been poisoned, based on what I've described? I really appreciate this service. Thank you.

New Castle County Delaware birds wildlife owls

4 Responses

It is difficult to say what may have occurred. Like all animals, birds are susceptible to illness, and one explanation is that it got sick and died. Another theory, especially if it was a young individual, is that it died of starvation after a hard winter (I see you are in Delaware, have you had a hard/cold winter?). The position of its feet is not unusual - the "relaxed" mode of bird feet is actually that perching position. Whereas we humans have to flex our hand muscles to grab something and relax to release, birds are the opposite, relaxing their foot muscles to grip a branch and flexing to release. The position of the wings is also not necessarily a clue because it would have become stiff after dying. Poisoning is possible, but I think illness or starvation is more likely.

Dear Dr. Frank,
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and complete reply to my question about the barred owl. The information about foot flexion in birds was fascinating. We did have a hard winter in Northern Delaware--wet, with many deep cold snaps. I hope and believe, now that you have given me some solid information, that the owl died of natural causes. Though I imagine starvation is no picnic, it's better than poisoning.
Thank you again.
Rebecca





Dear Dr. Frank,
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and complete reply to my question about the barred owl. The information about foot flexion in birds was fascinating. We did have a hard winter in Northern Delaware--wet, with many deep cold snaps. I hope and believe, now that you have given me some solid information, that the owl died of natural causes. Though I imagine starvation is no picnic, it's better than poisoning.
Thank you again.
Rebecca

Hi Rebecca,

I'm glad to help. I hope you get to enjoy a nice spring soon!

Best,
Maureen