9 Reasons You Shouldn’t Keep an Owl as a Pet

Caring for an owl comes with a host of responsibilities that are way more intense than keeping a dog, cat, or parakeet. Here's why you shouldn't do it.

Owls are as fascinating and charming as they are stunning. We often perceive these birds as a quiet and wise, minding their own business perched high up in the tree. What we don’t think about is that owls are actually raptors or birds of prey, who for the most part are loners, spending most of their night looking to kill their next meal. That’s expected in nature but it doesn’t quite fit the criteria of a domesticated pet you can cuddle.

Born to be in the wild

As endearing and beautiful as the owls are, they are fierce predators by nature, and special training and equipment are required to handle them safely. Owls are top predators, equipped with an arsenal of tools for hunting and defense,” says Shawnlei Breeding, project manager at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. That arsenal includes extremely sharp beaks and talons owls use to capture prey. And while owls swallow smaller prey whole, larger prey is torn to shreds and swallowed in smaller pieces. These animals are just as cute as owls—and as surprisingly dangerous.

Owls aren’t interested in cuddling

Yes, owls are beautiful and have inquisitive, dreamy eyes but they’re not interested in pets or cuddling. There’s no kissing an owl on the cheeks—it’s a smart idea to keep them and these other animals away from your face. Even if you’re prepared with an animal handling glove, if the owl misses it on a landing, its talons will pierce your arm skin. And remember, in nature, these birds generally live a solitary life, with most species preferring to roost alone except during breeding season. “Owls are mostly solitary and do not seek the company of others (including humans) except when nesting,” says Breeding.

You can’t get owl chow on Amazon

Unlike domesticated parakeets or parrots who eat commercially prepared bird food, owls require the same food as they would find in nature. “Owls require a whole prey diet and can eat three to four mice a day,” says Breeding. You can’t get by with cutting up the chicken or steak you’re going to have for dinner because they lack the nutrients owls need to survive.

Owls keep a different schedule

Owls are nocturnal, so they’re fairly chill during the day, keeping quiet and still for the most part. But when the sun sets, it’s party time. “Owls are vocal and active at night when most of us are sleeping. Their loud hoots can be heard over long distances,” says Breeding. There’s a reason the term “night owl” exists.

Owls live a long time

Owls can live up to 35 years, which is wonderful, but that also means a lifetime commitment of diligent daily care. Unless you have a friend trained in caring for an owl, you’re not going to be able to go on vacation. If the owl becomes ill, a neighborhood veterinarian isn’t likely qualified to treat the owl, or he/she may refuse to treat the owl if you don’t have the proper permits. “Owls can only be seen by licensed wildlife vets if they get sick or injured,” Breeding says. while 35 years may seem like a long time, it’s nothing next to these longest living animals in the world.

Owls don’t have table manners

You can’t place a frozen mouse in a bowl and expect an owl to eat it daintily. “Owls are sloppy eaters, leaving guts and other body parts strewn around that can rot and attract bugs if not cleaned daily,” Breeding says. And if that wasn’t gross enough, owls don’t digest all their food. They regurgitate large, mucous-covered pellets containing fur, bones, and whatever else that didn’t make it through the digestive cycle. What does make it through the digestive cycle comes out as poop in a liquid form with a nasty odor.

Owls need lots of space

Owls might seem small in comparison to pets such as cats and dogs, but even a light-weight, three-pound Great Horned Owl has a wide wingspan of over four feet—not exactly suitable for a typical birdcage. “Housing for owls is strictly regulated and must meet federal guidelines for size, location, and structure. They cannot be housed in cages or kennels designed for pets,” says Breeding.

The Feds say, no way

Besides all the reasons already stated, there is no permit to keep an owl strictly as pet Breeding says. “Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to keep an owl as a pet. Penalties include a fine of up to $15,000 and/or up-to six months in prison.” The only permits granted are for native owls, and for special purposes only, such as falconry, education, or rehabilitation. Those permits are for certain conditions— generally only if the owl is injured and non-releasable to the wild.

Even J.K. Rowling says its a bad idea

Sure, Harry Potter and his friends had owls as pets, but it’s important to remember, they live in a fictional world. books told the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary, “If anybody has been influenced by my books to think an owl would be happiest shut in a small cage and kept in a house, I would like to take this opportunity to say as forcefully as I can, ‘you are wrong,'” author J.K. Rowling told Suffolk Owl Sanctuary. We couldn’t agree more. Still, they’re great to enjoy in the wild or in sanctuaries. Even if you’re already a big owl fan, we bet you don’t know all of these fascinating facts about owls.

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Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.