Barn Owls in captivity


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Barn Owls in captivity

  • I have just visited Lee On Solent to show my two boys a US warship off the coast and came across an old gentleman holding a young barn owl, I think he said it was about 10 weeks old. Out of curiosity wondering why he had the barn owl I asked him whether he displays birds of prey. He said no, he keeps a pair of breeding barn owls as pets at his house. Disappointed further to hear this news I aksed how he keeps them and he said they spend most of the day in an aviary and he brings them into the house to feed them, he also said that one of the owls currently has 9 eggs which are close to hatching. I have done a bit of research on the internet and I gather it is legal to keep the owls although strongly discouraged. I was disappointed further when I asked the man whether he sees the wild barn owls in the area he lives (as I see them regularly when working late days and night work), unsurprisingly the male had no idea there were barn owls in the wild close to where he lives, which makes me question his real interest in barn owls!!!.

  • Hi Gps,

    You have stumbled across one of my deepest concerns!

    Yes it is completely legal to keep any captive born bird in this country. You don't have to have a licence you don't have to have your aviaries/cages inspected and there are few restrictions. Since it is easy to breed Barn Owls in captivity - some unscrupulous breeders can raise 15-20  from one pair in a year - you can buy a young owlet for around £60-£100. European Eagle Owls come inslightly more expensive but are equally  easy to get hold of. Many other species native and non-native are available.

    Unfortunately people will often buy birds without a real appreciation of the responsibility they are taking on and as a result many birds die or are released as their "owners" find they no longer can or wish to care for them. Having been fed in captivity all their lives they are ill-equipped to hunt successfully enough to live in the wild.

    Those of us who run bird sanctuaries are left to pick up the pieces. Some of you may think we should just release the native species who come to us but if you care to check up you will find it is illegal to release a captive born bird without permission from DEFRA and to get that permission requires a lot of research into the location you intend using as the release site in order to determine its suitability as a habitat and the level of prey animal populations etc.

    I am fed up with the people who try to keep owls as pets but equally fed up with the preaching animal "lovers" who shout at me that I should release all the birds to whom we have given homes. Something does need to be done but I can find no-one who is willing to sort out this problem. There is currently not a single bird protection organisation willing to do more than "tut" in disapproval while privately owned sanctuaries work their socks off  trying to educate people and at the same time offer what is often life saving sanctuary to these wonderful creatures who have become pawns in a sordid money making business.


  • Hi Jenny what a nice informative blog and at least you have my sympathy also I understand that some small captive bred birds that are breeds that usually migrate go frantic in the cage trying to migrate in the autumn.

  • Hi Sooty,

    I have no experience of this but I should imagine it could be true.

    The real problem is that you do get some birds that do appreciate human company I work with several owls who do "come for a cuddle" but they are by no means the majority and I also know many who are not happy in captivity and do not want human contact. It's very difficult!

    I have also known birds in the wild who welcome contact with people - on their terms of course - and who genuinely seek you out. I have made "friends" with a wild Tawny (to the point where I could touch him) and have had Robins, Blackbirds and of course Jackdaws who learned my routine and were there waiting for me each day either to feed from the hand or come into the kitchen for a meal.

    So I do know people and birds who seem to have very mutually fulfilling relationships but I have come in contact with hundreds of people whose "ownership" of birds has made me so angry.


  • Hi Jenny

       This problem has been mentioned before and I completely agree with what you say.

       I have a friend who has had barn owls and was completely dedicated to their upkeep.

       Large avery and no holidays then some idiots shot them in their avery.

       You can buy barn owls as easy as buying a pet parrot and its wrong.

        I once reported someone keeping two in a rabbit hutch and was told if I could prove they were wild birds they would visit,but if they were captive bread and they had room to stretch their wings it was ok. I must say its a few years since.

       This is also happening with other birds of prey like harris hawks and surely some sort of licence should be required and regular checks made.

       We have a sanctury for owls not far away where injured owls are taken and unwanted pets.

     They do a great job visiting fairs etc with owls that can't be released back into the wild.

      A couple of years ago do gooders broke in and released these owls that had no hope of surviving and luckily most were found


  • Sorry above post should read Hello gps and Jenny

  • Hi All,

    Thanks for all your support on this, Just to point up the work we have to do, two birds were brought to us in the last 48 hours. Both captive bred and kept as "pets". One has had a serious injury to a wing and can no-longer fly well. The story about how she was injured just does not make sense but we have no way of proving it was the result of neglect, bad treatment or cruelty so the guy can go on keeping birds.

    The other is a year old and a much loved pet but family circumstances have changed and they are having to move. The trouble about keeping birds of prey as pets is that they live so long if they are looked after properly.  This little lass can look forward to another 30 years. A Barn Owl will live for 20 - 25 years, a European Eagle Owl can live for 50 years!!!!! That is one hell of a committment!

    I do wish there was more regulation.


  • Jenni,

    Thank you for your informative reply, Im sure there are many responsible people who either care for rescued wild birds and those born in captivity. It saddens me that such wonderful animals are kept under the label as 'pet' when they clearly shouldnt be and like you say are used for money making. It is a shame that there arnt many organisations willing to take a stand against this but I guess it would be extremely difficult to enforce. What summed it up for me wirth the incident I mentioned was the man's lack of interest and knowledge in the wildlife around his home in particular barn owls right on his doorstep!

    On a positive note though there are many organisations including RSPB, Wildlife trusts, and through the media with Springwatch that are encouraging children to become involved with nature, and conservation, so maybe there is hope for the attitude of future generations, my three year old is fascinated with all creatures, and partly through my interest is fascinated with barn owls and kingfishers!.

    Thank you


  • Hi GPS,

    I am thrilled to hear of your three year old's interest! Good work. Lots of books around the house on birds and animals really deepened my enthusiasm as a child. My Two and a half year old grandaughter is a member of the RSPB and loves getting her magazine!

    We do a lot of education in schools and with groups that visit us and hope we are getting the message across that wild animals are not pets. We encourage people, especially round Christmas, to sponsor one of our recued birds. They get news of the bird and of course can visit whenever they want. I hope it helps!