Keeping Owls as Pets: Yes, It’s Legal

Updated on February 28, 2018
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.

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?

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Legality

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.

Owl Care

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).

Caging

  • 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.

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Feeding

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.

Handling

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.

Lifespan

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

Comments

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    • profile image

      kreative._.kiki 

      2 hours ago

      https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=Aw...

      So many owls!!! I really hope I can get one....

    • profile image

      Ayush 

      2 months ago

      Snowy owls rock

    • profile image

      Anden 

      3 months ago

      And an English Mastiff can bite with a force of 500psi with it's sharp pointy teeth meant for squeezing the life from human intruders, doesn't stop the general public from owning Mastiff dogs.

    • profile image

      Toph 

      3 months ago

      Melissa, the talons of the Eurasian owl are capable of exerting around a very generalized 360 psi of pressure. You probably couldnt squeeze out 100 on a good day. Now combine that with sharp pointy talons meant for squeezing the life from small animals and puncturing vital organs... they're not for the general public.

    • profile image

      Kristofer 

      3 months ago

      How much is an owl a little one though because I love owls there so cute

    • profile image

      cody 

      3 months ago

      do you have a owl

    • profile image

      Ava 

      5 months ago

      Well than how can you become a falconer?

    • Melissa A Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa A Smith 

      5 months ago from New York

      Why is using them to hunt or teach so OK but not pet ownership? That's stupid.

    • profile image

      Clare 

      5 months ago

      Raptors aren’t pets. Any responsible breeder will never sell a bird to clueless people. No body has any business keeping birds of prey unless you are a falconer or an educator.

    • profile image

      bookpaw 

      5 months ago

      cool

    • profile image

      anz 

      6 months ago

      I own a northern hawk owl that i rescued from the clutches of a coyote. It was a young bird unable to fly and would have been dinnner for the coyote if i had not stopped this. Anubus the owl lives and travels with my wife and me for the last ten months. Anubus is the best pet we have ever owned and has become the third person in our relationship lol. But seriously we share our house and bedroom with anubus and there is nothing that the two of wouldn't do to keep our bird happy and healthy. Also people should understand that you need to be a self employed person or retired as the bird needs a lot of time spent with it. I would advise against owning one if you cannot provide this. Diet is also expensive. Mice chicken partridge salmon and it all has to be fresh.

    • profile image

      savanna 

      7 months ago

      I'm used to thawing dead rodent's and handling bird's and I have outdoor space, so an owl would be ideal.

    • profile image

      Heidi 

      7 months ago

      The only Owl that I am interested in is the Sunda Scops Owl.

    • profile image

      Carolyn Leigh Brown 

      8 months ago

      The Right kind owl even if it is a toy owl from the wizard if world of Harry Potter

    • profile image

      Kaycee 

      8 months ago

      @CS raptors most certainly can be kept as pets, anything is a pet if you own and care for it yourself.

      The relationship falconers have with their birds is exceptionally unique, it’s a working relationship... it’s not the same as pet owners for sure. Although, utilizing falconry trainings techniques is a must for owning any bird of prey.

      Owning a bird of prey is most certainly not something to be taken lightly. These birds require rigorous care and maintenance to maintain their health.

      But, that doesnt make them “not pets”.

    • profile image

      CS 

      9 months ago

      I really would never advise anyone to take on the mentality that any species of raptor can be considered a 'pet.' I'm a falconer and I work with exotics as a living. The raptors I work with are not pets, nor are the educational raptors. The relationship one has with a raptor is completely different.

    • profile image

      AP 

      12 months ago

      The only owl I want is a burrowing owl, which from what I've seen can be kept in houses, since they live in prairie dog or tortoise burrows and prefer running and hopping to flying. Unfortunately, they're very much a native owl. They are however very common as pets across the pond. This and the federal ban on banded mongooses and meerkats (though I know I hypothetically could have a kusimanse here if I could find one for sale) are probably the two biggest reasons I fantasize about moving to Scotland or Wales.

    • profile image

      Kaycee 

      15 months ago

      Owls are very interesting, I'd love to own one someday when I have the money to but both the animal (Eurasian eagle owls are $4,000, like you said, and an enclosure would be $700+) and the owners of them I've talked to say it's around $200 month to feed them.

      Thanks for the article!

    • Melissa A Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Melissa A Smith 

      15 months ago from New York

      The answers you seek are in the article. It is not a light undertaking.

    • profile image

      DawnNyoka 

      15 months ago

      I would love to have an owl for a pet!!! They are just gorgeous!!

      How would I go about owning one?

      Many thanks,

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