6 Reasons Owls Make Terrible Pets

White and brown owl sitting on perch inside cage

Owls are wild animals that are nearly challenging to manage in a conventional residential environment. They do not tolerate hugging or regular human touch since it goes against their developed nature. These razor-sharp talons were made to pierce and cut, not to perch on your shoulder. This is a bird that was created by nature to hunt and kill little animals, not to amuse humans in their homes.

There are at least six unavoidable reasons why an .


Watch Now: Do Owls Make Good Pets?

  • 01 of 07

    Owls Are Carnivores

    Owl eating on a log

    If you maintain an owl, you'll have to give it fresh meat every day. Owls are stringent meat eaters, and giving raw meat to an animal is a difficult undertaking. Although most captive wild predators are given thawed-out frozen meats, doing so every day and dealing with the blood and leftovers is not for the faint of heart. And this isn't a critter that eats hamburgers or steak—owls only consume entire animals from commercial sources, such as rodents. Many people dislike keeping rats and guinea pigs in the same freezer as their frozen items.

    And owls have a reputation for being messy eaters. The eating procedure entails shredding prey in order to consume small portions, and this mess must be cleaned up after each meal. Owls use their hearing and vision to hunt tiny rodents in the wild. Many owls have varying sized ear openings on their skulls, allowing the brain to construct a three-dimensional aural picture of their environment. Even in your house, an owl in a domestic situation will mimic that hunting urge and eat fiercely. Anyone who is not experienced and adept can be murdered by an owl's urge to dig sharp claws into any source of food, including a human hand-delivering the meal.

  • 02 of 07

    Owls Need Space


    Owls require a lot of room. A parrot cage in the living room corner is simply insufficient. A large aviary will be required, and it will need to be built of durable wire because the owl's keen talons will quickly turn a wooden enclosure into toothpicks. If you manage to tame an owl and let it soar around your house, keep in mind that your furniture isn't going to stand a chance.

    Due to the dust and grime that builds on the feathers, owls must bathe on a regular basis. This inclination gives the bird an advantage as a hunter since filthy wings cause feathers to whistle while in flight, alerting prey animals to the owl's location. The owl's natural need to bathe keeps its feathers clean and quiet. Owls in captivity require a huge bath pan that is cleaned and replenished on a regular basis. (Owls bathe throughout the day, which can be problematic for wild owls.) Day hunters include swifter raptors like goshawks. Goshawks are the most dangerous to owls, as they frequently feed on them when bathing.)

    Owls housed in household settings should ideally be kept in outdoor aviaries. This completely negates the purpose of having a pet bird in the first place, because it's difficult to bond with a bird that never comes inside and is housed in a vast outdoor aviary where the most you can hope for is a once-or-twice-daily visit. Regardless, owls develop used to human presence and feel nervous if left alone. When you do engage with your owl, it will largely be for the sake of feeding and cleaning up after it. This is not a cuddly pet, but rather one that asks for a lot without giving much in return.

  • 03 of 07

    Owls Require a Permit


    Owls are wildlife, and you must be taught before obtaining a license to maintain a native species in captivity. You can lawfully keep an owl only after being trained and licensed. Even this license from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) does not enable you to keep an owl as a pet—only as a rehabilitation expert. Once an owl is healthy and fit, it must be released back into the wild, according to laws.

    A permanently disabled owl is also unsuitable as a "pet." If an owl is injured and cannot be released, you must also obtain an education permit, which will keep you very busy. This educational permit requires you to conduct a set number of public educational programs each year. The education requirements differ by state, however in order to keep your permit, you must satisfy these minimal standards. Finally, a raptor may only be designated as an instructional bird if it has a restricted amount of injuries.

    To put it another way, the licensing and educational permit requirements are quite tight, making it extremely difficult to maintain a raptor in a household context lawfully. A "pet" owl is one that is maintained unlawfully.

    Keeping wild owls is illegal in the United States, save in rare situations, but not in other countries. Keeping wild owls is legal in the United Kingdom, for example. The Harry Potter-inspired spike in owl ownership, however, was shortly followed by bird abandonment. The rigors of maintaining an owl in captivity were simply too much for some families.

  • 04 of 07

    Owls Are Nocturnal


    Owls are nocturnal, which means they hunt and are active during the night. Owls, unlike other birds, create sounds at night, especially during the breeding season. Domestic parrots, while boisterous during certain periods of the day, are quiet during the dark hours of the night and hence do not bother neighbors. However, owls make a lot of noise when they mingle and mate, and they're at their loudest during the dark hours when neighbors are the most upset. You will not be popular with your neighbors if you have a great horned owl in an outdoor aviary that hoots all night, every night, for the whole month of October.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Owls Need Constant Care


    All pets require attention from their owners, but finding a boarding facility or a pet-sitter when you need to travel or want to vacation without your pet is usually not difficult. However, an owl is not a pet that can be left with just any sitter. Finding a caregiver ready to defrost frozen rodents, feed them to a fatal owl, and clean up the gory mess is difficult.

    Keeping an owl will greatly curtail your travel options. Be ready to stay at home if you insist on owning one.

  • 06 of 07

    Owls Are Messy


    You're in for a real treat. Owls defecate. They have a lot of feces. They defecate all everywhere. Unlike parrots, which consume mostly fruits and vegetables, owl feces contains the waste of digested meat, and it stinks. In addition, owls vomit pellets containing undigested bones and feathers from the animal corpses they have just consumed.

    All birds are dirty, but owls are among the messiest of them all. Keeping an owl requires cleaning up faeces, regurgitated pellets, feathers, and other trash left on the floor of your massive aviary on a regular basis. By comparison, keeping an owl makes having a huge parrot appear easygoing.

  • 07 of 07

    The Bottom Line


    A variety of specialists agree that an owl is not a good pet. Tamara Barker-Hanley, a raptor handler, responded when asked if an owl would make a good pet: "Because owls are wild animals, they make terrible pets. They are a federally protected species under the Migratory Bird Act, and if not handled properly, they can do serious harm."

    Private individuals are unlikely to qualify for permission to keep an owl, according to Steve Malowski, Team Leader for the Cincinnati Zoo's bird department. "I'd leave it to the professionals and disregard all of the charming movies of owls posing as pets. While things may be different in Europe and elsewhere, the USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service) is highly stringent."

    And finally, a few words from Joe Krathwohl, "The Bird Man of Las Vegas:" 

    Owls have never been, nor ever will be, considered pets except in the most disrespectful of captors. Lately, we see all sorts of demeaning videos on the Internet, of people from around the world who have found a way to obtain owls and then treat them as if they are toys. There is nothing less cute than seeing an owl suffering from learned helplessness at the hands of a person who demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of behavioral science and lacks respect for the natural behaviors of owls.

    Owls are interesting raptors who deserve your respect and fascination. If you enjoy owls, though, it is advisable to sponsor one by making a monetary gift to a local rehab facility. You may come view "your" bird whenever it is convenient for you, and leave the care and feeding to the professionals.