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 and further reinforced by their presence on social media. Due to the book series, much of our nation’s young people 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 how do you care for one?
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 as a pet, or any other native owl. They are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Under the same law, you cannot even posses 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.
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. They are one of the largest owls in the world. The speckled owl is another species that is available less often.
One thing the websites that state owls aren’t, shan’t, or can’t be pets are correct about is that they 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).
- Owls and other birds of prey are kept in what’s called a mews. These are essentially completely enclosed, large, outdoor, wooden enclosures. The sides should be composed of slats that allow in some light and air exchange 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. With their placement, they shouldn't be so close to the wall as to ruffle the birds tail when it sits there facing away from the wall.
- 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. Owls produce a lot of waste.
- Eurasian owls have a wingspan of up to 6 feet, so this can provide some reference to how large their mew and weathering yard should be for them to be comfortable.
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.
This is not really that strange for a person to be willing to do 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.
Eurasian Owl handling. As one of the largest owls in the world, and perhaps the largest, precaution is obviously needed when interacting with this massive bird. They can weigh up to 4-8 pounds and take on large prey such as foxes and young roe deer in the wild. 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 with them such as teaching them to fly freely then return 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 $3000.
Eurasian owls are a long-lived bird. They 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.
Experience is highly recommended
Many sellers would prefer to sell to owners who have some experience with birds of prey. In general, it is a good idea to become familiar with animals that very few people have before seriously considering them because there might be aspects of their care that one will deem to be too much to handle.
Particularly with Eurasian owls, they are large birds that could cause harm with 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 toward animal training techniques and can be self-taught as long as they are willing to continue learning from experienced people.
This is not a care sheet!
It should be obvious, but this article exists to provide general information to those who are interested in whether or not owls can be kept as pets but it certainly isn’t a ‘comprehensive’ care guide. If you are really interested in getting a Eurasian owl or any other higher-maintenance pet, then conducting more thorough research and consulting with other owners or zoos (the ones that don’t automatically say no and are willing to provide real information) should be your next step. With the proper care it should be your right to own the pet you want.
Questions & Answers
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.