Some blame the fictional Harry Potter and his snowy owl sidekick, Hedwig, for giving a false impression that owl care is easy or that owning one as a pet is acceptable. And while it can be quite common and enjoyable to have a pet parrot or another domestic bird, the same is not true for this wild bird of prey. Other than zoos and wild bird sanctuaries, it is downright illegal to own a snowy owl in North America.
Common Name: Snowy owl
Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
Adult Size: about 36 inches tall with a 48 to 60-inch wingspan
Lifespan: about 9 years in the wild; up to 28 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Snowy Owl?
It is not legal to own a snowy owl in the U.S. Private ownership is prohibited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service per the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
It is not legal to own a snowy owl in the U.S. Private ownership is prohibited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service per the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, but if you would like to know more about these fascinating birds, read on.
Snowy Owl Behavior and Temperament
Snowy owls are typically solitary and aren't known to be affectionate toward each other or humans. Since they're most active at night and rely on sizable live prey as their main diet, they don't make a good pet.
This bird uses its large talons and sharp beak to catch prey. And it employs its unique owl features—night vision, keen hearing, and aerodynamic body—to become a silent but deadly predator. Since it is also prey to other larger animals, when threatened, both male and female owls defend themselves and their nests by dive-bombing and attacking perceived threats.
Captive owls are housed in zoos or raptor rehabilitation centers. At these locations, an owl enclosure needs to be a minimum of 20 square feet with one or more perches that mimic tree branches.
Owl enclosures require regular cleaning to maintain sanitary living conditions. Owls defecate profusely and expel owl pellets—regurgitated clumps of indigestible bits from prey items, such as fur, bones, and teeth. Owls, like most birds, go through an annual molt, and during this time, they lose large quantities of feathers that must be removed from the enclosure.
Any excrement, discarded feathers, or rotting refuse left in the enclosure creates a breeding ground for bacteria, which can affect the health of an owl.
What Do Snowy Owls Eat and Drink?
The snowy owl eats small mammals and birds as well as insects in the wild. Its preferred food in its native arctic habitat is lemmings. On average, an owl will consume three to five lemmings per day.
In captivity, owls are fed whole mice, rats, and chicks that are either live or thawed from frozen. It needs at least seven to 12 small animals per day.
Common Health Problems
Snowy owls are prone to aspergillosis, a fungal infection that causes respiratory problems, depression, and loss of appetite. Birds of prey originating in arctic or subarctic climates tend to be more susceptible. The fungus often causes problems for these owls in a warmer, drier environment than their native range.
Since the birds are not legal to purchase in the U.S., you can sponsor or "adopt" an owl that lives its life in a pet sanctuary or an animal center. Many shelters or conservation organizations help heal injured wild birds or care for wild owls that were initially pets. These organizations include the:
Adoption programs ensure that these birds are cared for by professionals, given the appropriate enclosure, attention, training, and care. Your monetary contribution can provide for that owl's needs, and in the case of local bird sanctuaries, may grant you the ability to visit the bird. Depending on the sanctuary, they may even allow more interactive engagement, such as helping with feeding or taking part in owl care. Sponsoring an owl helps that wild animal and provides much-needed support to the center or organization that provides for its care.
Similar Pets to the Snowy Owl
If you are interested in other exotic bird species, check out:
- Ring-Neck Dove Species Profile
- Victoria Crowned Pigeon Species Profile
- Black Palm Cockatoo Species Profile
Do snowy owls make good pets?
Owning snowy owls is illegal, but these birds would not make good pets anyway. They are aloof with humans and fiercely focused on locating and catching prey almost all of their time. Their sharp beaks and claws make them dangerous to handle by even the most experienced keepers.
Do owls bond with humans?
Captive owls rarely bond well with humans. They are solitary creatures in the wild and are not affectionate animals.
Are snowy owls endangered?
Snowy owls are considered "vulnerable" species due to their declining population in the wild; they are not classified as endangered.