Can You Have an Owl as a Pet?

nervous owl about to take flight

Owls are fascinating creatures. In appearance, they range from cute to downright majestic. They occupy a place in stories, legends and folklore as everything from symbols of wisdom to shapeshifters. They’re often depicted in movies and books as engaging and entertaining companion animals. All of which raises some questions: Can you have an owl as a pet? If so, do owls make good pets?

 

The short answer is no. Having an owl as a pet is neither recommended nor encouraged by animal rehab workers, avian experts, and others in the field of owl care. No matter how cute they might be, having a barn owl--or any pet owl--is unfortunately less than ideal for many reasons.

Owls are Wild at Heart

Depending on where you live, catching a glimpse of an owl during a nature walk can be a common sight. Because they live in areas that humans also inhabit, it can be easy to forget that owls are wild at heart. They’re fierce predators, and though their feathers are soft and silky, their talons and beaks are incredibly sharp. They are birds of prey, near the top of their food chain and their waking hours are devoted to hunting and defending themselves from other predators. They are as wild as wild gets.

They Take Up a Lot of Room

Owls are deceptive in size. Many are smaller than house cats, which might lead a person to believe they are compact creatures--and they are, until they spread their wings. Even a small great horned owl that weighs in at about three pounds has a wingspan in the neighborhood of four feet. That makes them a poor fit for any birdcage as well as kennels, hutches or other structures used to house small animals. And they have those wingspans for a reason: As hunters, owls need room to roam. Their hunting grounds can span half a mile, leading them to feel cramped in close quarters.

Owls Don’t Cuddle

Even though owls are often depicted as wise, gentle souls, they’re not ones to show or accept affection from those outside their brood. Their sharp talons mean special gloves are required to handle them, and even those don’t eliminate the threat of suffering a dangerous cut. Add to that the fact that owls are solitary by nature. They live alone, they hunt alone--they just want to be left alone. The only exception is during breeding season.

They Don’t Eat Kibble

Unlike with puppies, you can’t go to the pet store and pick up a bag of domesticated owl kibble, or sign your pet barn owl up for owl-training classes. Owls are hunters and they hunt small prey, such furry creatures as mice, rabbits, guinea pigs and other small birds. They require a whole prey diet and can consume upwards of three or four mice daily. Not to get too graphic, but owls tend to be messy eaters, with talons and beaks that are designed to tear apart their prey.

Owls Keep Odd Hours

Maybe it’s a sunny afternoon and you just want to hang out in your yard with your pet owl. This is another area in which owls don’t play along. They’re nocturnal creatures and their waking hours begin when yours end. Owls are also not the quietest of birds, and are known for frequent hooting through the night. The phrase “night owl” exists for a reason.

Owls are Bad House Guests

In keeping with their messy eating habits sharp talons, owls are known to cause no small amount of destruction to their immediate environment. This makes them incompatible with common household items like furniture, clothing and all the other trappings of domestic life. They don’t mean to tear a gash in your kitchen cabinets and shred your throw pillows, they just can’t help themselves.

You Can’t Leave Town Without Them

There’s no such thing as an owl-friendly vacation resort--and you can’t exactly leave an owl at home, for some of the reasons described above (their dietary needs and penchant for destruction among them), as well as an additional concern: imprinting. Imprinting takes place early in a young animal’s life and is the process by which they form specific attachments. Like many birds, owls imprint onto their earliest caretakers, and once an owl recognizes you as its mother, it’s not likely to allow anyone else to get close or care for it. Owls: You can’t live with them and you can’t leave town without them.

The Law Does Not Allow

Probably the strongest determining factor when Googling “Can I have a barn owl as a pet?” is what is--and isn’t--allowed by law. The United States, like many countries, has strict laws and regulations with regard to the ownership and rearing of exotic and wild animals and owls fall into that category. It is illegal to keep an owl as a pet in the U.S. unless you’re granted a permit for a native owl and those are issued for special purposes only, such as falconry, rehabilitation or education, all requiring specific training and certification. Running afoul of the law can trigger hefty fines and possible jail time.

Curious about a day in the life of a barn owl owner? Amy, a professional falconer, introduces her rescue owl in this video: 

Instead of keeping an owl caged in your home, consider inviting a family of owls to nest in your backyard. If you live in a quiet neighborhood, consider building an owl house for your local nocturnal friends. While they make poor pets, owls make excellent neighbors, helping to control the rodent population while leaving behind gorgeous feathers. At night, you may open the window and hear their familiar calls.

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