Owls are rather bulky birds that rely heavily on their serrated feathers for their characteristic mute flight and silent assassinations.
So it feels rather odd to even assume owls will be capable of walking, much peculiar to be hunting on foot.
However, most owl species walk only when they must, typically when they are too weak to fly.
Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are still wondering:
Can Owls Run On Their Feet?
Now, there are over 225 species of owls. However, only a few healthy owls have been reported to walk and even fewer have been observed running on the ground.
But, all owls possess similar bone structures and muscular strength. Therefore,
All owls should be capable of walking as well as running.
That said, certain owl features help them in their ability to walk and run.
1. Equal Footing
Like all raptors, owls also possess four toes arranged in 3-toes facing forward and 1-toe facing backward.
However, owls can adjust their toe with two toes on either side, giving them more equal footing.
Owls can maintain better balance while walking compared to other raptors.
Obviously, owls don’t have the privilege of straight toes like chickens or hoof-like feet like ostriches.
Therefore, one cannot expect them to be running experts.
2. Muscular Legs
Since most of an owl’s body is covered with feathers, owl legs appear rather bulky and short.
These are not only lean and muscular but also long enough to account for up to 50% of their total body stature.
Besides, owl legs are strong enough to support their gripping talons.
Owl’s legs are definitely muscular enough for a stroll on the ground.
3. Depth Perception
Have you ever observed a pigeon’s walk?
Normally, a pigeon constantly bobs its head back and forth while walking.
It’s because birds like pigeons cannot focus on more than one object at a time.
Which means, they must constantly toss their head around to get a better sense of objects around them.
However, owls have exceptional eyes with the ability to zoom in on different objects simultaneously.
Furthermore, their parabolic hearing makes them keenly aware of their surroundings.
Owls can walk easily because they have a better depth perception compared to other birds.
Now, this discussion does outline an owl’s capacity to run.
But it doesn’t really specify the owl species that actually walk or run.
So, let’s ask again:
Do Owls Run On The Ground?
Again, only a few owl species have been reported to do so.
However, owls are nocturnal animals.
So, this scarcity in reporting may correspond to our inability to observe owls’ behavior during nighttime.
And if that’s the case, then surely owls walk a lot to be even noticed.
That aside, owls living in open spaces are much more likely to walk than those living in dense forests.
Furthermore, juvenile owls regularly walk around before they fledge.
Still, certain owl species have been frequently documented running on their feet, including:
|Owl Species||Scientific Name||Details/Remarks|
|Burrowing Owls||Athene cunicularia||They have featherless long legs. These are the only owl species that run on the ground exclusively to catch prey.|
|Great-Horned Owls||Bubo virginianus||Their footprints in the sand range 3-30m in length, depicting their stamina to hunt on the ground.|
|Elf Owls||Micrathene whitneyi||Rarely reported.|
|Barn Owls||Tyto alba||Typically, straight footprints with abrupt changes in directions, suggesting their ability to track active nests.|
|Spotted Owls||Strix occidentalis||Reported enough to be used as a professional tracking method.|
|Barred Owls||Strix varia||Only their footprints with 10cm strides have been reported.|
|Short-Eared Owls||Asio flammeus||Mostly juvenile owls have been reported to run around.|
|Snowy Owls||Bubo scandiacus||These walk on the ice to listen and locate prey scuttling away beneath them.|
It must be noted that except for Burrowing owls, most owl species prefer to hunt from the sky.
However, most winged birds prefer to fly or hop than merely run on the ground.
Related article you’ll definitely find interesting – Why would an owl be on the ground
And so, you may be puzzled, wondering:
Do Owls Hop Or Walk?
While they do both, most owl species seem to prefer walking over hopping.
Now, an owl’s even footing gives it much better balance for walking around.
However, they have curved toes and sharp talons that may not be ideal for casual hopping, rather killer pouncing.
Typically, such pouncing involved an owl using its muscular legs to strike a high jump; then momentarily moving its wings to gain balance and longer projectile range, and finally landing on an unaware victim while crushing it to death.
Normally, owls hop on prey creeping beneath the ice layer or leaf litter.
Snowy Owls are often considered the best hoppers among owls.
They can jump on a vole 1-meter beneath the ice, grab the victim, then swallow it whole before even landing.
However, even snowy owls don’t use hopping to merely cover some ground.
We can safely assume that owls prefer walking over hopping.
But this does raise a crucial question,
Why Do Owls Prefer Walking Over Hopping?
Ornithologists suggest the following reasons:
1. Curved Feet And Sharp Talons
Though owl feet with two toes on either side present much more balance than other kinds of feet.
Their curved fingers are unlike those of corvids or vultures.
For the same reason, owls pouncing is a perfect attack.
2. Energy Conservation
Owls are so heavy that it’s hard for them to ride thermals.
So, powerful jumps may require much more energy than walking around.
Perhaps owls prefer to walk for purely energy concerns.
Besides, small birds prefer hopping instead of walking because jumps cost them less energy.
Walking is a far more vulnerable activity compared to hopping with limited exposure.
Now, some birders suggest that fear acts as a key factor in deciding walking over hopping.
In simple words, birds that can clearly see their surroundings are much more likely to walk than hop.
For instance, pigeons walk rather than hop because their eyes are located above their heads, making them aware of approaching threats.
Furthermore, crows hop around rather than walk because their eyes are located on either side of their heads, giving them somewhat of an average view.
Since owls have a great vision accompanied by parabolic ears.
Which is why they are rarely ever exposed to hidden threats.
Owls prefer to walk confidentially than hop around.
Besides, owls hardly ever show signs of fear.
Anyways, if you are wondering about an owl’s walk, you may as well be wondering:
How Fast Can Owls Walk?
That varies among owl species as well as their circumstances.
Now, owls’ nocturnal habits and their silent presence already hinder scientists from conducting many detailed studies on their behaviors.
Furthermore, most owl species rarely ever walk.
Besides, even all walking owls cannot be considered for standard speed measurements.
- Weak owls including sick, injured, and old ones may be too tired to move around.
- Juvenile owls may walk around leisurely giving no proper estimation for their running speed.
- Adult owls may deliberately walk slowly to carefully sense audio-visual changes in their surroundings.
Consequently, only healthy adult owls running on foot after some prey or away from a threat should be considered for estimating an owl’s maximum walking speed.
But most owls would flee on the wing or pounce from the sky.
Unsurprisingly, there is no study currently available comparing owl walking speeds.
That said, we can still roughly estimate how fast an owl can ever walk.
Crude Estimation Of An Owl’s Speed Range
Let’s consider an ideal walking owl – the Burrowing Owl.
These owls live in mammalian-built burrows and spend most of their day walking around on the ground.
They fly at 30-60 km/hour but mostly use this ability to flee threatening situations.
Therefore, we can assume that their walking speed is slower than their flight speed.
An average owl wouldn’t exceed running speeds of 30km/hour.
Now, Burrowing Owls often eat insects, lizards, frogs, and moles.
These prey animals run from 2km/hour to as much as 16km/hour.
Theoretically, an owl should be faster than its prey.
Or, more precisely,
An owl that hunts on the ground will likely exceed walking speeds of 2-16km/hour.
Combining all these facts together, we can finally claim that:
Owls regularly walk from 3-17km/hour but not usually more than 35km/hour.
It must be noted that this is a crude estimation and may have nothing to do with individual species.
But given our current stance of lacking any statistics, I suppose a crude estimation is the best we could do.
Though owls are rarely seen on the ground, they are capable walkers with strong muscular legs and unique feet.
In fact, some species like the burrowing owls hunt on the ground.
Like other birds, owls can also hop around to cover distances but they prefer walking because it’s energy-efficient.
Still, we don’t completely understand an owl’s walking ability.
And so, even today we can only just estimate their speeds rather than give exact values.