Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate
in veterinary assisting and a bachelor’s degree in biology.
A little girl with an owl
“TAWNY OWL” by Shaun’s Wildlife Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Do Owls Make Good Pets?
The purpose of this article is to address the influx of misleading information
as well as the double standards that people tend to have when discussing
alternative exotic pets.
Owls are iconic animals. Their large, expressive eyes and unusual
vocalizations make them stand out among the bird family. Along with their
representation in children’s films, it is not surprising that many people
wonder if they could make good pets, but the real answer to this question is
The Definition of “Good Pet” Varies
A “good pet” is generally a subjective opinion. Obviously, animals that do not
do well and tend to suffer in captivity, which is evidenced by poor health and
reduced lifespan, make pretty poor pets for everyone. However, there are some
Despite their popularity, many reptiles, while making excellent pets for
people who practice proper husbandry, die prematurely due to husbandry errors
at the hands of a significant number of owners. As a result, sometimes even
these animals are described as being “bad pets” when they clearly aren’t.
So where does that leave owls? There are so many websites dedicated to
spreading horror stories about what awful pets owls make, as well as claiming
they are all illegal in the United States, which is completely untrue. Most of
the time, these claims come from people who’ve never owned owls or have even
There is a tendency for people to jump to conclusions when discussing keeping
a “wild animal” as a pet, and it is rarely an objective, balanced, and factual
discussion. As what constitutes a “good pet” is arbitrary, owls can easily fit
the bill, as long as the owner is prepared for them, is willing to provide
some more involved care, and doesn’t expect them to be something they aren’t.
Here are some reasons owls (particularly smaller, hand-reared, human-imprinted
owls) make great pets.
“Owl eats Mouse” by JamesieAB is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
1. They Have a Simple Diet
Multiple websites vehemently warn readers that owls are a pain to feed. They
bemoan the woes of stuffing your freezer with dead mice and quail and claim
this makes them unacceptable pets. This is strange considering that snake
owners must practice this slightly unsavory aspect of pet care yet never
complain about it, nor are there multiple websites denouncing keeping snakes
as pets due to this.
In addition, compared to parrots, the diet of owls is pretty straight-forward
(keeping raptors at a good weight for hunting is more complex ) once
appropriate food items are selected and quantified for the bird’s energy
expenditure and size  to prevent obesity as well as starvation . In
most cases, they can be fed once a day at night or in the late afternoon .
It is not recommended to feed one food type to raptors due to differences in
nutrient availability , but owls only need to consume a small number of
food items in comparison to parrots, who need a large variety of vegetables
(cooked and fresh), seeds, prepared foods, and even cooked pasta and
specialized bird-friendly breads.
For raptors, day-old chicks are the staple prey item for the majority of
species because they contain decent metabolisable and gross energy levels
. Other prey items should include whole quail, young rats , and to a
lesser degree mice, and these whole prey foods would compose an adequate diet.
 Commercial diets designed specifically for raptors are also available
. Like most exotic pets, the exact nutritional requirements of owls is
It is important to frequently weigh owls and other raptors to make sure they
maintain good health.
“Tawny Owl” by JohnBWilson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
2. They Are Nocturnal
While this can seem like a drawback, some people may find an owl’s mostly
nocturnal nature very beneficial. Diurnal parrots demand their owner’s
attention daily, which can clash with their jobs and recreational activities.
Nocturnal animals are better suited for people who prefer to interact with
their pet when the day is winding down.
In addition, while they prefer to be awake at night, nocturnal animals often
acclimate to their owner’s schedule and may be awake during the day, albeit
they’ll be a lot calmer. Most owl species become active at dusk and dawn,
making them more crepuscular , so this is perfect for those who work a 9 to
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“Little owl” by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0
3. They Are Solitary
The most popular exotic birds that are kept as pets are companion animals.
Parrots and some soft bills demand the constant attention of their owners or
require another bird to bond with, as these animals form close relationships
with their mates in the wild or are even monogamous.
Many owls are completely solitary outside of breeding season  and are not
dependent on human affection, or social species like barn owls can adapt to
solitary living . This is a tremendous advantage for captive living because
social isolation for gregarious species can reduce their quality of life.
“Who?” by colink. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
4. They Are Legal in the United States
Native owls are illegal in the United States for non-educational or scientific
use with private individuals unless you jump through the very extensive hoops
of becoming an advanced falconer. Many online sources and some dubious
falconers then misinterpret (or outright lie about) this information and claim
that owls are illegal.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not regulate exotic owl species that are
not native to the United States and they are perfectly legal to own as long as
your state and city allow it.
Owls are probably legal in more states than other exotic pets like foxes,
primates, raccoons, and exotic felids because pet birds are more culturally
accepted and garner less attention to legislators.
The downside is that there are few species available, and currently the only
owls common in the trade are the very large and powerful Eurasian eagle owl
and the speckled owl. However, the opportunity exists to import more exotic
species that have the potential to make better pets at smaller sizes.
The spectacled owl is the only medium-sized owl species currently available in
private captivity in the U.S.
“Rufous-legged owl” by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0
5. They Are Sedentary
Considered to be sedentary compared to other raptors  many owl species in
captivity are happy to complacently sit on a perch without having numerous
activities available as a parrot requires. Even in the wild during their
active hours, owls prefer to expend as little energy as possible, perching and
waiting for their prey to appear so they can quickly attack .
In captivity, this can be simulated with training the owls to hunt or fly to
different perches. Owls also have smaller minimum housing requirements for
birds of prey . As raptors are easily stressed by stimulus, they require
visual barriers in their enclosure with perhaps a small window to view the
outdoors. Aside from training, their enrichment requirements include
different size and ‘loose’ perches .
“outgoing” by marneejill is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
6. They Are Fascinating and Unique
From their ability to turn their heads up to 270 degrees, to the wonderfully
bizarre shape-shifting talents of the ‘transforming owl’ (northern white-faced
owl), owls are unique members of the avian family that are a joy to watch.
Many websites place extreme emphasis on the fact that owls and other raptors
are not friendly, and with their small-sized brains they will only have an
interest in hunting and other basic animal drives.
This, however, is not the only reason people keep pets. Fish are not very
cuddly, but they are engaging pets. Having the opportunity to hold and observe
an owl up close is an experience owl owners have every day and other people
would be willing to pay to do so for minutes. For animals that only care about
hunting, they have unique personalities that their caretakers will come to
recognize. It’s not really very difficult to see why a pet owl is appealing to
A long-eared owl.
“Long-Eared Owl” by rutthenut is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
While many laypeople and falconers decry keeping owls as non-hunting pets
because they believe they belong in the wild, these birds can be healthy
enough to reach adequate lifespans in captivity that often exceeds their wild
lifespan. In addition, unlike many parrots that can live past 70 years, these
birds have a reasonable lifespan of (depending on the species) 10-30 years
- On average , the barn owl lives 17 __years in captivity, while the highest known age a wild barn owl has reached is 21 years . In the wild, barn owls generally survive 2 years and most don’t survive their first year . Not accounting for first-year mortality, barn owls survive about 3 years on average .
- Owls have increased mortality from old age and can live longer in captivity due to this. Starvation is a major cause of death in the wild .
- A wild long-eared owl that was kept in captivity survived 30 years. In the wild, they are estimated to have a lifespan of 10 years.
“Eurasian Eagle Owls” by jas-mo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
8. They Are Challenging to Own
All in all, exotic pets are appealing to most people because they present an
opportunity to get close to something that you would normally only see asleep
in a zoo or in an extravagant (and sometimes staged) wildlife documentary. In
addition to owls being unique and interesting, the challenges of owning one
can be rewarding in itself.
The feeling of successfully providing proper care to an exotic animal and
being ‘your own zookeeper’ has significant enrichment value that is often
downplayed by those who suggest that the inconveniences of caring for a pet
outside of dog and cat ownership are just not worth it.
- Bildstein, Keith L., and David Michael Bird. Raptor research and management techniques. Hancock House, 2007.
- Daut, Elizabeth F. “RAPTOR NUTRITION AND EMACIATION MANAGEMENT.”
- Deem, Sharon Lynn. “Raptor medicine: basic principles and noninfectious conditions.” Compendium on continuing education for the practicing veterinarian (1999).
- Forbes, Neil. “Raptor Nutrition.” 2014.
- Habben, Mark and Parry-Jones, Jemima. EAZA Falconiformes and Strigiformes TAG1EAZA Falconiformes and Strigiformes Taxon Advisory Group Husbandry and Management GuidelinesFor Demonstration Birds. The International Centre for Birds of Prey.
- Parry-Jones, J., and A. Ferguson. “Management guidelines for the welfare of zoo animals strigiformes (owls).” London: British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (2004).
- Neasbey, C. Masked Owl Husbandry Guidelines. 2008.
- Nijboer, Joeke. “Nutrition in Raptors.” Merck and the Merck Veterinary Manual. On-line Accessed at.
- Sieders, A. Barn Owl Husbandry Guidelines (2009).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and
is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a
Bungo on December 27, 2019:
As someone who has prepared diets for owls and parrots and worked with both
animals at a zoo (an accredited one at that), I can confirm that the point
about the diets and owls being sedentary and being easier to take care of than
parrots. The only “problem” I had with the owls is one of them being flightier
than the other, but that’s a problem the animal had as an individual not as an
captive owl. Owls are definitely not rocket science or cryptic to handle.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 24, 2019:
Linda Nowell Name even a single animal that everyone knows how to take care of
and has never been surrendered. I’ll wait. Frankly, I’ve had some bad
experiences with animals I DO own, but that is not true for others, so getting
an owl, which I am looking to do at present, will probably not change the
information I’ve presented here.
Linda Nowell on December 24, 2019:
Most people are not educated on raptor care. I’m from the UK and take in owls
that are raised as pets and are tossed out. I’d suggest if you’ve haven’t
worked with these birds or have own one that you’d avoid making harmful
articles that promote the keeping of them. You seem very set on the idea that
they make good pets but you don’t have the experience. You’re not speaking
from the perspective of someone who owns raptors but rather someone who’s an
exotic keeper than thinks every animal should be owned by the public. Not a
healthy mindset to have. Just because you have a bird does not mean you have
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 21, 2019:
While falconers and educators have monopolized owl ownership in the U.S., they
are fairly common exotic pets in Japan and the U.K. Sourcing information from
those owners and some of the material available on owl husbandry online
suggests that American owners largely overstate how ‘difficult’ they are to
care for. Why is it that you think I couldn’t distinguish abnormal behavior in
my animals? That is standard care for all exotics, which tend to hide their
illness. I’m also aware of Teflon, scented candles, heaters, self-cleaning
ovens, ect. I have a bird (although we do use it and have had no issues).
Falconers have this issue where they think most people are too stupid to care
for birds, I don’t get it.
I have provided references for every claim in this article, so I’m not making
Falconer/captive raptor breeder on December 21, 2019:
Unless you have personal hands on experience with owls, I would not being
making this claim. Most of us who breed owls typically don’t sell our birds
for pet ownership and most people do not now how to spot symptoms of illness
of raptors because unlike most birds, it can take years to fully understand
what’s typical for a raptor and what isn’t. Most people don’t Know what Asper
is which is a huge killer of birds of prey as well as how dangerous Teflon is
around birds. Like I said before, you don’t have much of a say in wether these
birds make good pets or not because you haven’t dealt with them. several
falconers, rehabbers, and breeders tried to explain things in your last
article but you refuse to listen. You simply do not have the hands on
experience/knowledge of raptors to make that judgment.
Joseph Leclerc on November 29, 2019:
Owl be darned! I wasn,t aware that owls could be really tamed. Even the
stories that the late Canadian writer Farley Mowat wrote about, he had 2 owls
that were his pets. Wol brings dead skunks to the dinner table and terrorizes
the minister, the postman, and the French teacher. Weeps is a comical bird,
afraid of everything except Farley,s dog, Mutt, and he never does learn how to
femi from Nigeria on November 28, 2019:
Several years ago we found a young owl at our backyard. we tried to remove it
and it puffed up to twice its size a neat trick. eventually we got it safely
to a green area.