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If you have ever been sprayed with a stinky spray by a black and white animal, there are high chances you know what a skunk is. But, for those who don’t, skunks are black and white striped mammals that are found mainly across North and South America. They are the nearest relatives to the stink-badgers of the Old World who spray an unpleasant defensive odour from their anal glands, located right behind their tail. This odour is not only deterring but also a priceless defence mechanism that keeps most predators at bay.
Owing to their deterrent spray, commonly known as skunk spray, the number of skunks killed by predators is as little as 5%. However, that does not stop a few persistent animals from preying on skunks. What animals are these? Below is a list exclusively on that topic.
If you want to know more about skunks, what they eat and how they find food, read this article.
What animals/birds are major skunk predators?
Here is a list of major skunk predators that includes both aerial and ground-dwelling animals that hunt and kill skunks:
Great Horned Owl
When it comes to the stinky skunks (that rhymes!), there can be no better predator than the Great Horned Owls, which is why they are on the top of the list of skunk predators. Great Horned Owls are large predatory birds that are active during the night, weighing anything near to three pounds.
Since Skunks are also active nocturnally, preying on these creatures becomes easier for Great Horned Owls. Great horned owls have wood-coloured feathers that easily blend in with the surroundings, therefore allowing them to camouflage and attack skunks out of the blue.
But how do the owls protect themselves against the deterring skunk spray? The answer lies in their weak olfactory senses. A huge number of bird species have a very weak olfactory sense, and Great Horned owls are no exception. When they can’t smell the stink properly, why would they even care about it in the first place?
Apart from weak olfactory senses, Great Horned Owls also have highly absorbing feathers that absorb most of the skunk spray; therefore, the spray has minor to negligible effects on the owl. Another factor that turns in favour of Great Horned Owls is that they are aerial predators, which means they don’t have grounds to cover as skunks do, and thus, they can easily grab and kill skunks with their sharp claws and robust grip without even landing onto the land.
The Red-Fox had to be one of the major skunk predators, the main reason being the fact that foxes and skunks more or less share the same ecosystem. This means that Red-Foxes often encounter skunks, and as opportunistic feeders, make a meal out of these black-and-white striped creatures.
Counted as the apex predators amongst all fox species, red foxes are stealth and skilled hunters when it comes to prey. Therefore skunks make easy kills for these cunning animals. Although red foxes or any other species of fox (for that fact) has an acute sense of smell, it does not stop them from killing a skunk or two often. Why? Because their superior agility and hunting technique weighs over their olfactory senses, which means, most of the time, red foxes grab and kill skunks right before they can go all ‘spray mode on’.
Skunks, however, are not the staple in a red fox’s diet, and these omnivores mostly feed on large mammals, plants, and insects (when other food sources are scarce).
Bald Eagles are highly adaptable, opportunistic predatory birds found across most of Canada and Alaska, throughout the U.S., and northern parts of Mexico. Bald Eagles feed on a diet that largely includes mammals such as squirrels, muskrats, beavers, hares, rabbits, and fawns. However, it is not very uncommon to find a Bald Eagle ravaging over a dead skunk.
Similar to the Great Horned Owls, Bald Eagles have very weak olfactory senses, which renders the skunk’s only mechanism of defence useless when it comes to these ‘bold and bald’ predatory birds (mind the alliteration). Bald Eagles usually hold onto their already-caught prey in their feathery wings, which tend to absorb the pungent smell that skunk’s spray in order to escape the predator.
Belonging to the order Accipitriformes, red-tailed hawks are one of the three species that are together known as ‘chickenhawks’. These carnivorous and immensely opportunistic birds have a great sight that can spot the prey from a gargantuan distance. Since they are not picky eaters, red-tailed hawks can eat almost anything, including skunks, a prey that most other animals seem to keep their distance from (for the right reasons).
Although the primary meal of red-tailed hawks is rodents such as hares and small mammals such as squirrels, skunks often fall prey to these predatory birds. How is that? Apart from the strong and lethal talons, red-tailed hawks are nearly unsuspecting as they perch high up on tree branches, locate their target, swoop with an incredible speed, and capture the prey. Similar to Great Horned Owls and Bald Eagles, red-tailed hawks do not have a developed sense of smell. Therefore, the pungent deterring smell has a negligible effect on them.
Apart from skunks, red-tailed hawks usually feed on fish, insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, and birds like owls and ring-neck pheasants, etc.
Cougars or mountain lions are large cats, their population distributed throughout Canada and South America. These exemplary ambush predators usually go unsuspected, which is why skunks fall prey to them without even noticing their presence. Since cougars or mountain lions pounce on their prey, giving them almost zilch to defend, skunks become easy prey.
The agility and the superior hunting technique of the cougars can hardly dissuade them from killing and feasting on skunks. Aforementioned, cougars are ambush predators, which means that instead of pouncing, they stalk through the wilderness and once they have located their prey, cougars leap onto the back of the skunk, killing them almost instantly with their powerful and suffocating neck bite.
Although cougars may prey on skunks, they usually don’t, and their diet consists mainly of ungulates, such as various species of deer, moose, and elk. Caribou, coyotes, horses and bighorn are considered an important part of a cougar’s regular diet. However, the dieting behaviour differs from region to region.
A bobcat or red lynx is a wild cat that is found only in North America and a few places nearby. With a body length measuring 49 inches, bobcats have a ‘bobbed’ tail tipped in black (hence the name bobcat), inhabiting the forest and urban edges, wetlands, bushy areas, and semi-deserts.
Since bobcats are one of the many animals that share somewhat similar ecosystems to skunks, their encounter with each other is not uncommon, and bobcats being opportunistic feeders, do not let skunks slip by. What makes skunks an easy kill for bobcats is the varied hunting skills of bobcats that change according to the prey in focus.
For example, when bobcats are hunting small rodents and animals such as mice and moles, they will either lie, stand, or stay in a crouched position, pouncing on the prey as soon as it wanders any close. For the large animals, on the other hand, such as small ungulates, domestic cats, and even skunks, bobcats will wait for their prey to inch closer, and once it is at least within a distance of 20 ft., it runs and rushes to attack and kill the animal.
Alternatively known as American jackals, Coyotes are a species native to North America, sharing several characteristics of the wolf and jackal. Their capacity for teamwork and robust build makes them aggressively smart predators that hunt fishes, amphibians, and even pungent smelling animals such as skunks. Since coyotes are fast-runners, with a speed of a whopping 40 kms/hour, catching a skunk and killing it with their sharp jaw and teeth is not a difficult task for the coyotes.
Unlike birds, however, coyotes have a developed sense of smell (a common trait in most land-dwelling animals). Thus, the inexplicably bad scent of the skunk should be a problem for the coyote, right? It is not the case (mostly) with coyotes, solely owing to their persistence and powerful jaws that can immediately kill coyotes before they can try to defend themselves.