Barn owls (Tyto alba) and leghorn chickens were fed a low protein high glucose (33.44% protein, 23.67% glucose) or a high protein low glucose (55.35% protein, 1.5% glucose) diet. After an intravenous glucose infusion, the peak in plasma glucose was not affected by diet in either species and was 22.6 and 39.4 mmol/L in chickens and barn owls, respectively. Glucose levels returned to normal within 30 min in chickens, but remained elevated for 3.5 h in barn owls. An oral glucose challenge also resulted in greater and longer hyperglycemia in barn owls than in chickens. The activities of hepatic glucokinase, malic enzyme and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase of barn owls were 16, 35, and 333% of the levels in chickens. Malic enzyme (P = 0.024) was less affected by dietary glucose level in barn owls than in chickens. Cultured hepatocytes from chickens produced 43% more glucose from lactate than hepatocytes from barn owls and, conversely, barn owl hepatocytes produced 87% more glucose from threonine than chickens (P = 0.001). Gluconeogenesis from lactate was greatly suppressed by high media glucose in chicken hepatocytes but not in those of barn owls (P = 0.0001 for species by glucose level interaction). When threonine was the substrate, gluconeogenesis was suppressed by increased glucose in both species but to a greater relative extent in chickens (P = 0.007 for species by glucose level interaction). Owls were glucose intolerant at least in part because of low hepatic glucokinase activity and an inadequate suppression of gluconeogenesis in the presence of exogenous glucose, apparently because they evolved with large excesses of amino acids and limited glucose in their normal diet.