Having an owl for a pet sounds like something you would only see in a movie or read in a fantasy novel. In these settings, they are always portrayed as super smart, friendly, and reliable companions.
If you want to keep a pet owl, it might be easier said than done. Exotic birds like owls are protected by several laws. You’ll have to first ensure that you are in compliance with each one. Also, its care level is pretty high because of its space, dietary and health requirements. This is why it is not recommended for beginners.
This article will outline everything you need to know before you can start the process of becoming an owl owner.
What Owls are Legal to Own in the US?
If you go through sites on the internet, you will notice that most of them say owning an owl is illegal in the United States. This is only partly true since the only owls you are not allowed to own by law are the snowy owl and other native owls. These birds are under the federal protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Native owls can only be kept if they are being rehabilitated, for falconry, or learning reasons. To be a keeper, you would have to be licensed and the Fish and Wildlife Service can take the bird if you don’t meet the agreements set in the permit.
Owning non-native owls is legal, but you would have to cross-check with your state laws since some specifically don’t allow it. Some of the owls you can keep as pets are the Eurasian eagle-owl and the speckled owl.
Do You Need a License to Own an Owl?
In the states that allow you to have a pet owl, states like Florida and Texas will require you to have a permit before you can own one. For you to get the permit, you will have to prove that you can provide a suitable habitat for the bird.
You will also need to show that you have the training that handling an owl requires. This might take up a large portion of your time if you didn’t have any prior training.
In some states, obtaining the permit is a one-time task but in others like Mississippi, you have to renew the permit annually. Whether or not this will cost you money also depends on the state you live in.
Pet Owl Costs
Unlike other birds commonly kept as pets, an owl has a high care level requirement and this also translates to the amount of money needed. Here are some of the things you would need to spend on as an owl owner.
Price of an Owl
When buying an owl, you want to get one that has been bred in captivity since it relates to humans better. The price of an owl lies anywhere between $3,000 and $3,500. This price depends on the owl’s age, gender, and breeder among other factors.
A more pocket-friendly option would be to adopt an owl from a sanctuary. This can cost around $800. you would also need to have all the necessary documentation to take this option.
Price of Owl Necessities
Naturally, owls are birds of prey and this means they primarily eat freshly killed animals. Typically, the larger the owl, the more food it will need to eat daily. Unlike with cockatoos and parrots, you can’t just walk into a pet store and buy owl feed.
An owl eats around 4 ounces of food in a day. This would mean supplying your owl with about 4 mice a day. If you opt for live rodents, this might cost you anywhere between $5 and $20 depending on the rodent type and size. With this in mind, you might have to spend about $600 monthly on food. You can choose to feed quails to your owl. A single quail costs around $3.
Another option you can visit is buying frozen feeder rodents. An advantage is that they come in bulk so you can store them in a freezer and when it is close to feeding time, you can thaw the one by one.
Making a habitat for the bird will also need some money. An owl’s aviary is not like the cage you would put a parrot in. Since it is larger, building it and furnishing it with all that the bird needs can cost you $1,000 or more.
Also, you will want to take your owl hunting from time to time. To prevent it from flying away, you will have to track the bird. Tracking equipment will have you parting with the upper side of $1,500.
To ensure your owl stays healthy, you have to schedule visits to the vet for checkups and also anytime the bird isn’t feeling well. Lab testing for an owl is around $60.
The costs of having an owl are pretty high and if you feel like you are financially incapable of handling them, you should consider getting a more low-maintenance pet.
Pet Owl Diet
Owls are purely flesh-eating birds so you need to find a constant supply of either live rodents or frozen ones. You can also feed the bird chicks or rabbits.
Many websites make this out to be one of the unpleasant parts of owning an owl. However, this should not discourage you since the same is fed to pet reptiles and it is readily available near you.
Owls eat by tearing the food to bits with their sharp claws and curved beak. This makes it easier for them to eat. When owls finish eating the rodent, they regurgitate the animal’s fur and bones. These are usually called owl pellets. Also, owls tend to poop a lot and as a result of their meat-only diet, their poop is usually runny and has a really bad odor.
To prevent any diseases, you have to clean up after your owl’s messy eating habits, pellets, and waste.
Before you seal the deal on whether or not you want to get an owl, there are a few things that you need to consider that might help you weigh your options. Here are some of the things you should know;
Unlike other birds kept as pets, an owl cannot live in a small cage. You will need to set up a large aviary called a mew. This structure is large and it stays outdoors.
An appropriately sized aviary should measure 10-15 meters long and 4-10 meters wide. If the space is too large, it will cost you more money and make it harder to catch the bird. A mew with these measurements can comfortably house one owl but if you have more than one owls coming in, you can increase the measurements by 10% per bird.
The sides of the structure should have some thin spaces to let in the fresh air and natural light. They should, however, be narrowly spaced to prevent the owl from escaping or any potential predators from getting in.
Part of the mew should be enclosed to form a room-like structure. Owls are very solitary birds and also have a dark room that gives them some security. Ensure that the windows in the room have grills.
Select a substrate that is easy to clean. You should also consider cementing the aviary floors to make your work easier. Chipped sand and wood shavings are good substrates to choose from.
Like every other enclosure meant for birds, mews also need perches. This is because they help the bird to exercise their feet and trim their toenails. Ensure that the perches are placed at a safe distance from the wall so that the bird’s tail feathers aren’t rubbing against the wall, making it uncomfortable.
Also, the feeding points should be positioned slightly above the ground. Consider using a wooden shelf lined with a sheet of aluminum, which is easier to clean. You should also provide your bird with a bathing bowl.
Lifespan of an Owl
One of the most commonly kept owls, the Eurasian owl, has a lifespan of 20 to 25 years if it lives in the wild but if when kept in captivity, they can live for up to 50 years. If you want to keep your bird with you for as long as possible, ensure that you are properly feeding him and giving him proper health care.
If you have to leave your bird in the hands of another person, always ensure they are trained and qualified to handle owls. You should also ensure there is an avian vet on call in case of any emergency.
Also, if you stay with your owl for a couple of years and feel like they need a new home, do not release it into the wild. This is because they are unaccustomed to life there and they might suffer from diseases and this will shorten the bird’s lifespan. The next best option would be to take the bird to a sanctuary but this might also pose a challenge. This is because most of them don’t have enough resources to take in more birds.
Similar to other birds of prey, owls are solitary and they don’t strive to create social bonds. Unlike parrots, owls do not have the mindset to form and live in flocks and this makes it hard for them to bond with their owners.
Since they are wild animals, owls can be aggressive. Unfortunately, this trait cannot be unlearned by the bird. If you are looking for a bird to cuddle with, then owls are not it.
Owls also do not adjust well to change so if you go on vacation, you might have some trouble with your bird.
Another thing you should know about owls is that they are nocturnal- they are more active at night. So you might notice your bird being drowsy and asleep all day and hooting all night, especially during mating season.
Common Causes of Owl Health Problems
Your owl is prone to several avian diseases and health complications. Most of them are either as a result of deficiencies in their nutrition and poor hygiene. Here are a few of the most common diseases that your owl is likely to get.
- Avian tuberculosis. It affects the owl’s liver, lungs, and intestines. It causes anorexia and weakness and can be fatal.
- Bone disease. It is caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium, and an improper ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
- West Nile virus. It mostly affects young owls and it is caused by mosquitoes. To keep your owl safe, use mosquito netting and traps in the aviary.
- Bumblefoot. This happens when the owl’s perches are poorly sized, poor sanitation, and puncture wounds, the result is the inflammation of the owl’s foot tissues.
You must take your owl to a qualified avian vet anytime you suspect anything is wrong. How much it will cost you depends on where you are and with the doctor.
How to Care for an Owl
Owls require a lot of high maintenance and doing the right thing will ensure your bird is comfortable and healthy. Take a look at some of the ways to give your bird proper care.
- Ensure that you have all the proper documentation that you might need to have an owl. If you don’t have the required papers, the owl might get taken away and experience trouble trying to adapt again. Also, when your owl falls sick and you lack the necessary permits, some vets may deny your bird treatment and this will affect its health.
- Find a licensed and qualified avian vet around your area and schedule check-ups for your owl. Also, if you notice anything out of the ordinary, always inform the vet as soon as you can.
- Make certain that the aviary is cleaned every day to get rid of the pellets, leftover food, molt, and waste. It is unhealthy for the bird to stay in an unclean habitat.
- Once in awhile, take the time to groom your owl by trimming its talons and beak. Put some water in the aviary so that it can clean its feathers. Owls are silent flyers because they need to be quiet to get the prey. If your owl makes whistling sounds when it flies, it needs a wash day.
- They love to exercise and if your owl can fly, give it some time to stretch is wings at least once a day.