Keeping Owls as Pets: Yes, It’s Legal
The idea of keeping an owl as a pet must have taken off (no pun intended) from the absurdly popular Harry Potter series. Much of our nation’s youth have grown up fantasizing about adopting their very own Hedwig, which was a snowy owl in the story. We all know that large parrots are owned as pets across the nation, so what about raptors? Can you keep an owl as a pet, and if so, how do you care for one?
Can You Have an Owl as a Pet?
Many websites state that it is illegal to own an owl as a pet, but they are only partially correct.
People can own various owls in the UK, but in the United States, you cannot own a snowy owl—or any other native owl—as a pet. They are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Under the same law, you cannot even possess one of their feathers without a permit from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
Permits for native raptor possession are issued only for educational purposes and for falconers. The process of becoming a legal falconer is exceptionally complex and requires training, so this is certainly not casual pet ownership. Other native owl owners are professional animal educators and nature center affiliates, so without this standing, you won’t be able to possess any native raptor.
What Species Are Legal to Own in the United States?
Non-native raptors are perfectly legal, however, in states that don’t specifically prohibit them. In the United States, the most commonly available exotic owl species that requires no permits is the Eurasian Eagle Owl—one of the largest owls in the world. The speckled owl is another species but is rarer.
Why Do Owls Make for Challenging Pets?
Owls certainly aren’t good pets for the majority of potential bird owners, including those interested in other falcons.
For people who are used to keeping parrots, perhaps expecting that they could keep an owl (especially a Eurasian owl) in a large macaw cage in their house, they should be turned off to the idea of keeping these animals when they learn about their requirements in captivity. Relative to their (already large) size, they need an extremely large outdoor enclosure for adequate welfare (or indoors, if you really do have that kind of space to dedicate).
Here are some more challenges you'll encounter as an owl owner.
- Taking vacations can be difficult: Owls are creatures of habit and like to have a routine. A disruption of this routine is very stressful for them. In addition, they may become aggressive to another caretaker—not to mention the challenge of finding someone willing to watch them.
- They can be destructive: You might come home to find pillows ripped to shreds or your wood floor all torn up.
- They are high maintenance. These raptors require daily feeding, cleaning, and attention. Owls that can fly need to be exercised often or housed in cages that are big enough for them to fly around.
- Don't expect them to be cuddly. Owls have still retained their natural instincts, and, unfortunately, snuggling with others isn't one of them.
- It could be hard to find a vet. It's important to find someone who specializes in properly caring for pet owls, which can be difficult given how much there is to know about their health and needs.
- They'll likely disturb your neighbors all night long. Remember that owls are nocturnal, so they'll be active while you (and your neighbors) are trying to sleep.
What Kind of Caging Do They Need?
- Owls and other birds of prey are kept in what’s called a mew. These are essentially completely enclosed, large, outdoor, wooden enclosures. The sides should be composed of slats that allow in some light and air but are not too far spaced apart as to cause discomfort to the animal and potentially be accessible to outdoor animals.
- Birds of prey actually prefer the closed-in nature of these somewhat dark enclosures because it helps them feel secure. The windows of the room should be barred for the bird’s comfort.
- Weathering yard: This is a large, open flight cage that can be attached to a mew. It is composed of wire mesh, chain link fencing, or netting.
- Perches can be wooden or made out of rope. In terms of their placement, they shouldn't be so close to the wall as to ruffle the bird's tail if they're facing forward.
- There are many different ways to design mews and weather yards, as well as different substrates that work for different areas. The best substrate to choose is one that can be efficiently cleaned frequently since owls produce a lot of waste.
How Big Are Eurasian Owls?
Eurasian owls have a wingspan of up to six feet, so this can provide some reference as to how large their mew and weathering yard should be for them to be comfortable. Some experts recommend having a pen that is a minimum of 20 feet. In addition, they can weigh four to eight pounds and take on large prey such as foxes and young roe deer in the wild.
What Do Owls Eat?
Strangely enough, many websites describe how extremely unpleasant it is to maintain an owl as a pet because you have to feed it numerous carcasses. Yes, owls are purely carnivorous and their owners must stock up on dead rodents and thaw them every day.
However, this is not really that uncommon given the popularity of snakes and carnivorous lizards that also require frozen-thawed rodents. Due to the reptile trade, there are endless places to obtain frozen rodents, chicks, rabbits, and even pigs, to feed an owl in bulk. You may need to purchase a separate freezer to accommodate it all.
Owls produce owl pellets which are regurgitated fur and bones that they will leave all over the enclosure. Owls also defecate a lot and this, plus the pellets, obviously must be regularly cleaned. Their feces are said to be particularly runny and smelly.
How to Handle a Eurasian Owl
As one of the largest owls in the world, and perhaps the largest, precaution is obviously needed when interacting with this massive bird. Eurasian owls in comparison to other birds of prey are not very social with handlers. This is why experience with training other exotics or falcons may be necessary to handle them.
People who are interested in this species—or other owls—might want to consider practicing falconry techniques such as teaching them to fly freely and returning to their owner. This would allow the animal to receive sufficient exercise and be a better companion animal, which benefits the owner too. An explanation of falconry and recall training exceeds the scope of this article, but it involves motivating the bird to return for food by keeping it at an appropriate weight. In fact, weighing owls constantly is extremely important for their long-term health. This will ensure they are being fed enough while being exercised.
Where Can You Buy a Eurasian Owl?
These birds are regularly listed on websites where falconers advertise birds. One of these sites is Raptors For Sale. They cost around $3,000.
What Is Their Lifespan?
Eurasian owls can live around 20 years in the wild but up to 50 years in captivity. Do you want to possess a large bird of prey and stock up on frozen small animals for potentially half a century? This includes getting someone to care for your bird if you go away and securing a veterinarian willing to see them if needed. This is an important factor to consider. Other owls have long lifespans as well.
Many people, unfortunately, get a pet owl only to realize a few years later that it's not a good fit. It's important to note that finding an alternative home for them can be very challenging. Releasing them into the wild is basically a death sentence since the bird will likely die of starvation. In the U.K., it's illegal to release a barn owl that's been in captivity. And it could be difficult to find a bird sanctuary willing to take your pet since many are at capacity.
This article is only meant to provide general information and isn’t a comprehensive pet owl care guide. If you are really interested in getting a Eurasian Owl or any other higher-maintenance pet, conduct more thorough research and consult with other owners or zoos (the ones that don’t automatically say no and are willing to provide real information).
Experience Is Highly Recommended
Many sellers prefer to sell to owners who have some experience with birds of prey. In general, it is a good idea to become familiar with them before seriously considering purchasing one because there might be aspects of their care that you will deem to be too much to handle.
Particularly with Eurasian owls, they are large birds that could cause harm with their beak and talons, and they require a dedicated owner to commit to their welfare in captivity. Understanding and learning how to train them is important, however many people have a natural affinity for animal training techniques and can be self-taught as long as they are willing to continue learning from experienced people.
Pet Owls for Adoption
If you're not ready to make the commitment of owning an owl, there are other ways you can show your love for these raptors.
Symbolically Adopt an Owl
There are nonprofits around the world that let people symbolically adopt an owl. There's even one in the United Kingdom, The Owls Trust, that will give you free entry to meet your owl. While this mainly consists of donating money to help pay for the care of the owls, it's a great way to support an animal you love. In return, you'll usually get a photograph, a stuffed animal, and/or a certification of adoption.
Volunteer at an Owl Sanctuary
If you're lucky enough to live near an owl sanctuary, like Owl's Nest in Tampa Bay, Florida, you can look into volunteer opportunities. Do a Google search to see if there are any sanctuaries nearby.
Questions & Answers
What species of owls can I own in Ohio?
Non-native owls, but the typical species is the Eurasian eagle owl.Helpful 14
I found an injured Barred owl and know of our local orginizations or Fish and Wild life. I'm in Kentucky, what do I do?
You have to find a licensed wildlife rehabber.Helpful 2
How old do you have to be to get your licence?
For a falconry license, the age varies by state. It is usually between 12-16 years old.Helpful 5
Is it legal to own a Snowy Owl in Snohomish, WA?
Snowy Owls are native birds. They are only legal with falconry permits.Helpful 3
Do you have to have a permit to keep an owl as a pet?
Native owls require falconers permits or various licenses for educational/exhibitor purposes. Non-native owls (Eurasian eagle owls) do not require permits in states where they are legal.Helpful 3