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How to Legally Have a Pet Owl in the United States

If you’re thinking about having an owl as a pet either for the sake of completing your Harry Potter look or just because you think owls would make a cool pet, keep on reading.

When you think of a list of pets you can keep at home, you might be thinking of dogs, cats, rabbits, or even a pet turtle. Even some types of birds like parrots and lovebirds can be uncommon pets. But not a lot of people have thought about keeping an owl as a pet. Some don’t consider it because owls aren’t native to where they live, but what about places where owls are uncommon in the area?

In North America, for example, there are 19 different species of owls roaming the wild. That would mean owls fall under the definition of an exotic pet since it would be an unusual pet that is often seen in the wild rather than domesticated. In the United States, there are state and local laws protecting exotic animals. Some animals (e.g. capybaras, bearded dragons, chinchillas, etc.) are legal exotic pets and can survive and live a long and happy life if their owners do their research first.

But what about owls? Aside from the question if they can be legally owned in the United States, are they capable of being domesticated into pet owls? Here’s everything you need to know.

State Laws

The laws of pet ownership vary according to state. So, the first thing you should do if you’re considering to get an owl as a pet is to check if you’re even legally allowed to do so in your state. Here’s a link to an article that provides a summary on each state law on exotic animals, but with regards to owls, here’s the gist of it:

  • Alabama – Yes, you can keep an owl.
  • Alaska – No, you cannot have an owl.
  • Arizona – You cannot own an owl unless it’s for educational, wildlife rehabilitation, or wildlife management purposes.
  • Arkansas – As long as you can prove you legally acquired an owl, you can keep it.
  • California – No, you cannot have an owl.
  • Colorado – No, you cannot keep an owl.
  • Connecticut – Nope.
  • Delaware – Yes, you can have an owl.
  • Florida – You need a permit to own an owl.
  • George – You can own an owl as long as you don’t get a specie that is inherently dangerous.
  • Hawaii – Nuh-uh.
  • Idaho – As long as you get an owl that isn’t a threat to livestock, the environment, agriculture, and wildlife. You’ll need a permit from the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
  • Illinois – You can get an owl. Yay!
  • Indiana – You’ll need a permit before you can own an owl.
  • Iowa – Don’t even try.
  • Kansas – Not unless you’re running a zoo, sanctuary, or approved animal facility.
  • Kentucky – You can own an owl as long as you don’t get a specie that is inherently dangerous.
  • Louisiana – You can get an owl.
  • Maine – You need a permit to own an owl.
  • Maryland – You might need to check in with your state government, since they have a long list of exotic pets that aren’t allowed.
  • Massachusetts – Nope.
  • Michigan – You need a permit before you can own an owl.
  • Minnesota – You can own an owl. Yay!
  • Mississippi – You can own an owl, but you need a species that isn’t inherently dangerous, get a permit that has relatively steep requirements, and constantly renew that permit every year per animal (and is an owl really worth the effort?)
  • Missouri – Check your state’s list of dangerous wild animals to see if you can own an owl and, if you can, have it registered.
  • Montana – You’ll need an entry permit and health certificate for your owl.
  • Nebraska – You can own an owl.
  • Nevada – You can own an owl.
  • New Hampshire – Nope, you can’t have an owl.
  • New Jersey – You can’t have an owl unless it’s for zoos and exhibits, and even then it has extensive requirements.
  • New Mexico – You need to go to your state website and fill out a permit application for your owl.
  • New York – You cannot have an owl.
  • North Carolina – There are no state laws, but there are specific laws per county and city on exotic pets.
  • North Dakota – You may or may not need a permit for your owl.
  • Ohio – You cannot have an owl. Sad.
  • Oklahoma – You need a permit to own any animal anyway, so you definitely need a permit for your owl.
  • Oregon – You cannot own an owl.
  • Pennsylvania – You need a permit for your owl.
  • Rhode Island – As long as you can prove that you can take good care of your owl, you can keep it.
  • South Carolina – If your owl is a native animal, you need a permit before you can call it your pet.
  • South Dakota – If owls are listed as an exotic pet by the state, you need a permit and a veterinarian’s examination.
  • Tennessee – You can own an owl.
  • Texas – You might need a license to own a pet, depending on how dangerous your owl is.
  • Utah – You can try applying for a permit to own an owl, but the state only approves exotic animals in rare instances.
  • Vermont – You cannot get an owl except for educational purposes. If you do have educational or exhibitory purposes, you’ll still need a permit.
  • Virginia – You cannot keep an owl not native to your state.
  • Washington – You cannot keep dangerous species of owls.
  • West Virginia – You cannot keep dangerous and non-native species of owl.
  • Wisconsin – You need an import permit and certificate of veterinary inspection before you can legally keep your owl.
  • Wyoming – You cannot keep an owl.

Take note that for states where we say you can or may be allowed to keep an owl, it’s best to double-check with your state government just to be sure. In most cases, there could be a hidden caveat where owning an owl may only be for certain purposes.

Also, since owls are a part of wildlife, even if you do consider an owl a pet, you can’t really “own” them in a legal sense. Technically, you can keep them, but your ownership is supervised by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. If you cannot keep an owl or provide for certain standards, they can recall or take the owl away from you.

Should You Keep An Owl?

Assuming you live in a state with laws that don’t prohibit you from getting a pet owl, you have to answer another question: should you be keeping an owl given your current living situation and knowledge of caring for these mysterious birds?

If you simply want an owl to complete your Hogwarts-themed costume and are basing everything you know on owl care on the Harry Potter books and movies, you’re definitely ill-equipped to get an owl and shouldn’t be considering it in the first place.

But if you’re genuinely willing to put in the work, do your research, and provide your owl with an environment where it can thrive, then you might be responsible enough to keep an owl. But being responsible is not enough; if you can’t provide a good environment for it or have the funds to provide its needs, you’re better off getting a pet that’s low maintenance.

Why You Shouldn’t Get an Owl

Ultimately, I think that just because your state may not explicitly ban you from getting an owl does not mean you should get one. While some exotic animals can be low maintenance pets, an owl is not one of them. Though they aren’t very big animals, their natural behavior, needs, and legal requirements require a lot of work. So, unless you really need an owl for exhibition or educational purposes, here’s why you shouldn’t get an owl.

The Difficulty of Travelling

If you’re a person who travels a lot for work or pleasure, an owl will disrupt your lifestyle. First of all, because of the state laws on owls, you can’t just cross state borders with an owl in your car the way you would your dog. And unlike a pet dog that you can leave with a neighbor or ask a friend to visit and care for while you’re away, you need to find a person who is specifically trained to handle owls. In fact, some species of owls imprint on humans, so while they may be docile in your presence, they may be aggressive or stressed out when someone else takes care of them in your absence.

The Safety of Smaller Animals (and Things)

Despite their silence and mysterious demeanor, owls are actually birds of prey that feed on invertebrates, fish, reptiles, smaller birds, and smaller mammals. This depends on the type of owl you have since some owls feed mostly on insects while species like Barn Owls prefer to hunt for rodents. It’s why owls are banned in states that are known to have plenty of livestock farms because they can be dangerous to other animals.

Furthermore, owls’ destruction can also extend to your belongings. They aren’t good as indoor pets since their talons and beaks are sharp enough to destroy fabrics and wooden items.

Owl Food Is Difficult to Find

Seeing as owls are carnivores and have a specific diet, you can’t substitute their regular food for bird pellets you can find in pet stores (usually for birds that are appropriate as pets). Doing so puts your owl at risk for developing health problems due to their diet.

In professional owl centers, owl caretakers have large containers of live rodents and insects that can serve as owl food. In some cases, there are large freezers filled with gopher and rabbit carcasses to be thawed and cleaned before being served to owls. Because owls have a habit of storing leftovers for later, you’ll have to find their hiding spot and remove their leftovers before it spoils.

Sounds nasty? It is. Now, consider that owls have a 10 to 20-year lifespan. Do you and your household intend to feed an owl this way several times a day? If not, you’re better off with more low maintenance pets.

They Are Nocturnal Animals

Owls sleep during the day and are active at night. You might think that you don’t mind their hooting and are a heavy sleeper, but consider that maybe your neighbors might be light sleepers and won’t appreciate a loud animal during the night. Also, when an owl enters the mating season, they’re bound to be noisier to attract potential mates (in some cases, they might hoot at you when they imprint and consider you to be their mate). If you get a male and female owl, the sound of their mating may even be louder.

You’ll Need a Special Veterinarian

In case your owl contracts a disease, you can’t just go to your local veterinarian (unless that veterinarian is experienced in exotic animals). Specialized veterinarians can cost way more than your regular veterinarian visit. Depending on your location and veterinarian’s skill, you could be spending around $300 per visit.

Just because you can keep an owl in your area does not mean you should. Owls are mysterious and majestic animals that require trained professionals, live prey, and a large place to stay and fly in. While they may look like interesting pets, you’re actually better off looking for a pet with less maintenance. In short, it’s best to leave the owls to their natural habitat and in wildlife rehabilitation centers where they can continue to thrive in their natural habitat and behavior.

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