Owls are indeed beautiful, majestic creatures and at the same time you can find a plethora of pictures on the internet with simply adorable specimens. These factors have lead many people to believe that a pet owl would constitute a perfect companion, not to mention that the fact that it’s less “mainstream” than cats, dogs, fish or hamsters.
Sorry to disappoint, but first of all in the vast majority of countries – including the U.S. – keeping an owl as pet is against the law. The only circumstances when caring for an owl is legal imply being a certified and bonded professional, the owl can only be kept in temporary fostering for rehabilitation/breeding/training (certain species make half-decent falconry birds) AND you cannot hold legal ownership over it.
Even in the aforementioned situations, the best you can hope for is stewardship and the Wildlife Service can recall the owl if you fail to meet all the requirements at any given time. But in addition to the legal complications, there are other reasons why an owl is not exactly the best pet bird. Let’s elaborate.
1. They cannot be left unsupervised for prolonged periods
A human-imprinted owl – meaning an owl that was raised by a specialized trainer since a young age, rather than develop in the wilderness – will not accept another person caring for it with ease. This means that if the owl is accustomed to you, you will have a hard time finding a replacement in the event that you want to go on vacation or you have to take a business trip. And don’t think you can simply take the owl with you, because most airlines require a ton of permits and bureaucratic papers for traveling with this type of bird because of the strict wildlife regulations. Moreover, any break from their normal routine is a stressful, borderline traumatic experience for the owl.
2. These birds have a very destructive nature
The natural killing instincts are not restricted to other living things in your home. In fact, the owl will attempt to brutally “murder” any inanimate object that its claws can tear through, including sheets, rugs, pillows, plush animals, woodwork, etc. At the same time, if the owl “feels” a certain item does not belong in its high altitude habitat, which will typically consist of the topside of your dresser or cabinets, it won’t hesitate to drop it to the floor.
3. You and your neighbors will go nuts during the mating season
Owls are nocturnal birds, so during the nights of the mating season they will proceed to hooting and mating loudly, especially at early morning/late evening hours. Human imprinted owls perceive themselves as human and their mating call is directed to the owner, which means that you will have to “hoot along” otherwise they will get very cranky. And you don’t want to see them while they’re cranky!
4. Petting and cuddling is out of the question with owls
You will have to refrain from trying to pet the owl no matter how cute and fuzzy it looks, that is if you care about your fingers. The owl can and will bite you if you touch its backside, no matter how “humanized” it became or how much time it had to adjust to you. Don’t forget that it is after all a predatory specie.
5. Owls have very strict caring necessities
Not only will you have to engage in a strict and lengthy routine of cleaning and feeding the owl at predetermined times during the day, but you will also have to fly it regularly. Flying is mandatory for these birds – providing of course they are capable of flight – and if you cannot do that you at least have to host it in a decently sized cage to enable it this activity.
6. The lifespan of most owls is approximately 30 years
Unless your specimen is part of the smaller species of owls, in which case the expected lifespan is 10 years on average, your bird will share over 1/3 of your life. Therefore, the decision to actually take on the task of caring for an owl is pretty big, considering the long term commitment.
7. The razor-sharp beak and talon makes them a constant menace
Owls are rather straightforward in letting you know that they don’t agree with your actions, as the blood rushing down your hand generally constitutes a pretty good indicator that you have annoyed it in some way. But the beak and talons may also pierce the skin very easily by accident, for example when the owl tries to fly onto the falconer glove and misses by a couple of inches. Overall, these birds are so well equipped for combat and killing that it’s hard to dodge all their mechanisms. Have some Band-Aids and stitches nearby at all times.
8. Thorough expertise on their biology and specialized care is mandatory
In case the owl gets sick, you can’t just rush it to the nearest veterinarian clinic as you would with a cat or dog, simply because the vast majority of vets don’t really have the knowledge required to treat it. At the same time, due to the “deadly” nature of the bird, most vets will simply refuse to take on the job. But what is even more problematic is that you too have to be thoroughly familiar with subtle symptoms and behavioral changes that may indicate your owl is suffering from a condition.
9. Owl pellets and feathers everywhere!
In addition to the shredded upholstery, sheets and furniture that you’ll need to account for, you should also remember that you are bound to find poop, pellets and feathers practically everywhere, all the time! And, in addition to the regurgitated pellets and feces, the owl has this “cute” habit of emptying the ceca every day.
10. The diet of the owl
The local pet store won’t have bags of owl food. The diet of these animals – which are strictly carnivores – makes it all the more complicated to care for them. To put it simply, owls eat mainly small rodents whole (mice, gophers, rabbits, etc.). However, you will also have to cut up the animal in order to remove certain organs before feeding them to the owl, which is not exactly for everyone. After it is done feeding, the owner has to remove leftovers as otherwise the owl will attempt to hide rotting pieces of meat all around the house, storing them for later.