Do Owls Make Good Pets?

I don’t see owls too often, and chances are you don’t either. They are curious creatures that aren’t frequently seen […]

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I don’t see owls too often, and chances are you don’t either. They are curious creatures that aren’t frequently seen during the daytime. I have to admit, the idea of getting an owl as a pet crosses my mind every time I watch a Harry Potter movie and I bet I’m not the only one.

Do owls make good pets?

Owls are predators with sharp talons; they are high maintenance, destructive, and illegal to own in most countries. There is a consensus among avian experts that owls do not make good pets. J.K Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, even agrees with this. Thankfully, some alternatives may satisfy the desire to own an owl.

In this post, we will go over the laws regarding owl ownership, the 18, reasons why they don’t make good pets, and a good alternative to having an owl as a pet.

18 Reasons Owls Are Horrible Pets

These reasons should scare most people away from the idea of getting one as a pet. If they don’t, then you may be one of those rare individuals that sense a call to pursue a career in this field.

Owls are high maintenance and not suited for most people. Consider these reasons carefully.

1. J.K. Rowling Discouraged Owls Kept As Pets

If the Harry Potter series is your inspiration for wanting an owl then her comments on the subject will, hopefully, put that idea to rest. The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary reports that J.K. Rowling has made a strong plea to fans to not get an owl as a pet.

J.K Rowling, instead, encourages fans to sponsor an owl at a local bird sanctuary that they can visit, and see up close. She separated fact from fiction when she mentioned that the owls portrayed in her books were never meant to portray how owls behave in real life.

“The owls in Harry Potter books were never intended to portray the true behavior or preference of real owls. If your owl-mania seeks concrete expression, why not sponsor an owl at a bird sanctuary where you can visit and know that you have secured him or her a happy, healthy life.”
– JK Rowling


2. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act “outlaws the capture, selling, trading, and transport of migratory bird species.” It’s an international treaty that has been entered into by the United StatesRussiaJapanCanada, and Mexico. In the U.S. the only exception to this law is with prior authorization by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Violators can face up to $15,000 in fines and up to 6 months in federal prison.

The following is a list of the 19 owls included in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The list was updated most recently in 2020 as species are added to this list each year. Check the list for the most updated version.

  1. OWL, Barn, Tyto alba
  2. Barred, Strix varia
  3. Boreal, Aegolius funereus
  4. Burrowing, Athene cunicularia
  5. Elf, Micrathene whitneyi
  6. Flammulated, Psiloscops flammeolus
  7. Great Gray, Strix nebulosa
  8. Great Horned, Bubo virginianus
  9. Long-eared, Asio otus
  10. Mottled, Ciccaba virgata
  11. Northern Hawk, Surnia ulula
  12. Northern Saw-whet, Aegolius acadicus
  13. Short-eared, Asio flammeus
  14. Snowy, Bubo scandiacus
  15. Spotted, Strix occidentalis
  16. Stygian, Asio stygius
  17. PYGMY-OWL, Ferruginous, Glaucidium brasilianum
  18. SCOPS-OWL, Oriental, Otus sunia
  19. SCREECH-OWL, Eastern, Megascops asio

3. Owls Lack the Desired Temperament of a Pet

Owls are loners and very independent. They are not affectionate and don’t like to be held or touched. They are very aloof and don’t offer much of an interactive experience. This takes the fun out of pet ownership as caring for them is a job in and of itself.

4. Owls Can Easily Injure You or Your Guests

Up for a lawsuit? Owls have sharp tendons and beaks. They are predators and use their tendons to pick up, kill, and eat prey. Professional avian rescuers wear thick gloves to protect their hands but it’s common for the tendons to pierce through and puncture their skin.

Can you imagine the damage an owl could cause if it landed on you or a neighbor unexpectedly? If your owl gets comfortable with humans then this is a real possibility.

5. Owls Can Easily Destroy Your Property

Their sharp tendons will scratch any furniture they land on and will easily rip up upholstery. They can be high energy and cause a lot of damage within a short period if let loose indoors.

6. Owls Might Kill Your Other Pets

In the wild, and owls belong in the wild, they scoop up small prey with their tendons. Prey such as rabbits, mice, squirrels, cats, and even small dogs.

That’s right. Owls have been known to scoop up small dogs and puppies–to the horror of their owners. If you have other animals having an owl around could be a disaster.

7. Owls Can’t Live in a Cage

If Harry Potter is your only reference for owls then you have some wrong ideas. The owls kept in those small cages were fiction. Owls won’t peacefully sit still in a tiny cage. They are very active and they need to fly and move around regularly. They require large indoor-outdoor enclosures.

8. Owls Will Poop On Your Stuff

If you manage to get an owl indoors, it won’t care where it poops, and they poop multiple times per day.

9. Owls Live Up to 30 Years

Most owls live between 10 and 30 years. They require a tremendous commitment.

10. Owls Requires Expensive Equipment

The enclosures required to house owls will need to be indoors and also provide access to the outdoors. Having one built carries a significant price tag upward of $5,000 in some cases.

11. Most Vets Won’t Treat Owls

Most vets don’t have the knowledge required to treat owls. Vets that specialize in treating Avian life are expensive and hard to find.

12. Your Neighbors Will Hate You

Owls make more noises than you might think and their mating call will drive almost anyone nuts! Owls are nocturnal, so don’t expect to sleep much during mating season. You might get a few complaints from your neighbors too.

13. You Have To Butcher Dead Animals

Owls are carnivores. Many owls that are in captivity are fed small animals that have been frozen. It’s typical for handlers to remove the stomach and intestines before giving them to the owl. Expect to get your hands bloody consistently if you own one.

14. It’s Hard To Get A Permit

Permits are usually given to educators and to people who wish to use their owl in hunting wild game. In some states, permits are permitted only if the owl has been trained for hunting.

16. Owls Are Hard To Train

Training an owl is a full-time commitment. Avian experts and Zoologists spend their entire careers learning how to train and care for wild animals. It’s not an easy job, especially with owls.

They don’t often respond to positive reinforcements as their temperament is unlike traditional pets. Lay people do not possess the level of expertise to train owls properly. Much education is needed to train and is usually reserved for those who want to make Zoology their profession.

17. Owls Can’t Travel With You

If you want to visit family out of state or go on a vacation you can’t bring your owl with you. There aren’t kennels or animal hotels that will be able to care for your owl either.

Owls are rare and most people are not capable of caring for them–even if only for a few days. It will be nearly impossible to travel unless you manage to find a professional (they are costly).

18. Owning an Owl is Unethical

J.K. Rowling agrees. Owls should not be kept in cages. They are wild and need to be free to fly, hunt, and explore their natural habitat. Caging a bird like this is not natural and can be damaging to the owl. The only ethical way to cage an owl is if it’s for rehabilitation from an injury, or if it’s disabled.

The few people who use owls in their hunting jump through hoops and shell out a lot of money on an indoor and outdoor enclosure. You can’t order an owl cage from Petsmart. It doesn’t work that way with owls.

A Good Alternative To Owning an Owl

Instead of thinking of an owl as a pet have you considered just appreciating them in nature? Many species of owls are endangered, they are becoming rare, but in many areas, there are ways to attract them to your property. Not to capture but to appreciate.

Here in Missouri, we have Barn owls. Barn owls like nesting boxes. There are people here who place nesting boxes on their property in hopes of attracting one. They place these boxes in areas that don’t have much traffic and, usually, 12-16 feet high. The nest needs to be hidden from predators and abandoned buildings, barns, and silos are recommended.

Some groups use nesting boxes and other methods to attract owls to their property. If you want to have some interaction with an owl then this is the best way to go, in my opinion.

So, do owls make good pets?

Forget owning one as a pet. They belong in nature. In this post, we’ve covered the reasons why. They are out of reach for 99% of people. The rare person that wants to work with birds and pursue this as a career might be in a different position.

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