Species group: Owls
Other common names: Common Barn Owl, Monkey-faced Owl
Scientific name: Tyto alba
At first glance, their heart-shaped faces and willingness to breed in captivity make Barn Owls one of the most appealing owl species. However, they're relatively inactive and heavily nocturnal, which can make them a disappointing pet or aviary bird.
Barn Owls are provided with significant legal protection in many countries. In the United States, you are unlikely to receive a permit to hold a Barn Owl unless you are a licensed rehabilitator. In the United Kingdom, you may only hold a legally acquired captive-bred Barn Owl. Wherever you live, it's important to make sure that you understand the law before you accept the owl.
The Barn Owl is one of the most widespread bird species in the world. It is found naturally on every continent except Antarctica, in addition to many islands large and small around the world, from Madagascar to the Caribbean. There could be as many as 30 subspecies, although some of these forms may end up being split off to form their own species.
These mid-sized pale owls with white heart-shaped faces and dark eyes seem to be a breed apart from most other owl species.
330 - 400 grams (11.6 - 14.1 oz.)
33 - 35 centimeters (13 - 13.8 in.)
12 - 20 years
Behavior / temperament:
A captive-bred handfed imprinted Barn Owl is your best bet for a trainable owl that will show itself to its humans. However, even though such a bird can learn to fly to the hand for treats, it's best to be realistic about this species. They are often relatively inactive during the day and may not display as well in an aviary as a more diurnal species like the Snowy Owl. If you are looking for an action pet or a falconry species, you should probably look elsewhere.
Another problem: Imprinted Barn Owls may behave like babies for their entire lives, which means that they may indulge in persistent shrieking for food, especially at night. This unpleasant behavior is one reason that many owl owners end up abandoning their pets. Be aware of this issue and the potential for night noise before you choose a bird that you may not be able to keep.
Barn Owls need a large roost or pen that includes a perch and a shallow bathing bowl. According to The Barn Owl Trust, this species is often a poor falconry bird that can't be safely flown outdoors. Therefore, you will need plenty of space in its aviary to allow the bird to fly and exercise indoors – even though it may frustrate you that much of the time the bird is relatively inactive and doesn't seem to make full use of the space.
Barn Owls are carnivores that lack a crop. Overfed owls are particularly notorious for producing a vile-smelling vomit, but all owls including Barns will regularly regurgitate undigested pellets that contain such items as bones, fur, claws, teeth, and so on. This process is normal, and to allow the bird's digestive system to perform properly, you must be willing to supply a variety of whole foods such as chicks, mice, Coturnix quail, and rats. Barn Owls are particularly fond of rodents, so make sure you have a good source.
It's a common myth that Barn Owls don't drink water. They drink very little but they should have some available for when the mood strikes.
Written by Elaine Radford
experienced birder, fulfilling pet Owls, freeflight shows, welltrained falconer, beautiful birds
specialist veterinary attention, strong beaks, aviary needs, wild animals, novice birder
positive reinforcement training, fresh beef liver, undigested material
I am not entirely convinced owls make good pets, or even if one should attemt to tame it, but all things considered, I regard Barnaby, a barn owl, to be a pet of sorts.
I am not even sure how I got him- at least, I never consciously thought about getting an owl, and if truth be told, in South Africa it is illegal to keep them. However, about two years ago we suffered from a major rat infestation of my area, and Barnaby must have heard about it, because one day he just arrived, and took up residence in Sarah, the donkey queen's barn.
I am certain however, that Barnaby did not eradicate the rat plague by himself, but he has never left my property for more than a few days at a time; not even during winter, when there is a general scarcity of rats and mice. Perhaps the fact that I set up a white mouse breeding operation (for his sole benefit) during the first winter of his occupancy may have something to do with this, but somehow I do not think so. In fact, I do not think he needs me or my mice, since I very seldom see white fur in the balls he regurgitates. Whatever the truth of him needing me or not happens to be, I enjoy his company, which is always dignified, and totally devoid of the silliness and frivolity the chickens display when I try to have a conversation with them.
Neither of us have tried to approach the other, and we both prefer to keep our distance, lest we each think less of the other. Speaking for myself, I like to think that I take care of him, even if only in the smallest degree, but I am not certain Barnaby sees it that way. There is something about him that makes me feel silly in his presence, but being the wise bird that he is, I am also sure he is too refined to publicly disabuse me of the notion that I could possibly be of any use to him.
Thus, owls as pets? I do not think it is possible, and based on my observations of, and experience with Barnaby, I am convinced that being kept would be demeaning to the owl. Frankly, I find the idea of keeping owls as pets ill-considered, and I strongly disapprove of the notion.
However, for those with the inclination, or abilty to try and fathom the depths of an owl's soul, I would suggest spending some time at rehabilition centres for owls and other birds of prey first, before deciding one way or the other. Whatever you decide though, make the right decision for both yourself and the bird.
Image credit: JennyKS.
From reinier1 Apr 27 2015 5:35AM
One in a million
Gizmo was a display bird.
Owls - perhaps the hand-reared birds of prey in general - take on the traits of their trainers, so suffice it to say he was a touch awkward.
I believe he, along with his sister Gadget, had been owned by someone who wasn't quite sure what they were doing initially, however their new and I believe current owner has really managed to turn them both around. Gadget isn't the friendliest of owls - to hold her is to feel her wrath - but Gizmo... Well, I'll just stop fawning over the little fellow now.
Like all owls, barn owls have soft and fluffy feathers that make them look twice the size of their actual skeleton. Their legs are bare due to the areas in which they hunt - long grass, fields, places which could ultimately break their feathers if they had any there. This means when you have anklets on them, you should check them regularly because, depending how tight you have them, as the anklets get wet, they will get harder and eventually begin to rub, leading to sores. You'll love your owl immensely, so you don't want that - especially as they do need to be flown daily and if they've got sores on their feet you need those to heal so it's taking a step back in its training.
It's likely that barn owls are popular since, not only do they have those beautiful heart-shaped faces, but they're very common, adapted to most environments, therefore they're also relatively cheap to buy.
As stated in a previous review, having an owl isn't a walk in the park. There are important things to consider before you take the step into getting an owl. Do you have what it takes to train someone - a member of family or a friend - to look after it if you like your holidays? Do you know a falconer? Perhaps one night, even two nights, are ok when it comes to leaving your featherchild at home with someone who isn't confident with flying it, but a week or two is a little unfair.
Barn owls are possibly the easiest of the owls in temperament - if you want a bird you can fly - due to them having been kept as a captive breed perhaps much longer than any other owl, however they are still wild animals at heart. If you hand-rear it and never train it to hunt, it is ultimately defenceless, but it is never truly domesticated.
Owls in general are notoriously difficult to train to be hunters and there'd be no point in training a barn owl to do this as the biggest thing they'd be able to catch is a mouse, possibly a rat.
If you're not going to train and fly your bird, I suggest getting a huge aviary and more than one of the same gender to prevent it from getting lonely. One of 10x4 possibly won't cut it because they'll need room to exercise themselves. However, I personally don't agree with having a bird of prey and keeping it in a cage, especially not an owl. I don't know about all species, but barn owls like to have a mate, be it human or another barn owl.
In captivity, the life span of a barn owl increases dramatically. A breeder I knew had his first two barn owls for 21 and 22 years, so they are a commitment. For perspective, the average captive European eagle owl can live up to about 80 years old, so your really need some understanding children (and perhaps equally understanding grandchildren). In the wild, largely due to brain capacity, a barn owl in the wild doesn't really have a life expectancy exceeding 6 years old. Reaching 10 is a push.
Diet-wise, the owl is rather simple. Thanks to the existence of reptile owners, you can find the food basics in any pet shop. However, to save money I suggest getting yourself an independent freezer and buying in bulk. For 10 chicks, for example, I would pay £4.69 (give or take). For a box of home-delivered frozen chicks (250 in a box), I was paying £11 + delivery. Of course, don't stop with the chicks - mice and small quails, gerbils and hamsters are fantastic sources of nutrition for your bird - variety is the spice of life - and they aren't overly expensive either. Chances are if you buy your owl's food online the supplier will also stock these.
All-in-all, a barn owl is a fantastic bird to have if you're prepared to give it the dedication and devotion it deserves. However, if you're looking just for something pretty that doesn't require hard work and proper training and care, definitely look elsewhere..
From QuinnT Sep 9 2014 4:55AM