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Keeping and release of Barn Owls

  • Certificates and licensing
  • Welfare legislation
  • Release of captive Barn Owls

Legal aspects of keeping permanently captive owls

Schedule 3 (Part 1) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, allows for the keeping, advertising for sale and actual sale of certain species if ringed and bred in captivity. The required ring type for Barn Owls is a continuous metal band known as a closed ring, size U. Where an un-ringed Barn Owl is kept in captivity the keeper must be able to prove that the bird was legally obtained and, in the case of wild origin birds, that it is not fit for release.

All captive Barn Owls, including permanently disabled birds of wild origin, are also covered by European Union (EU) Council Regulation 338/97, which applies the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in European law. This requires that the keepers of captive bred Barn Owls additionally hold a Specimen Specific Certificate (also known as an Article 10 Certificate) for all specified commercial uses within the EU. This certificate is not owner specific, but relates to an individual bird and should be passed on from keeper to keeper. The commercial uses for which an Article 10 Certificate is required include the sale of birds and other activities involving commercial gain, such as the display of birds in public places and visitor centres. In order to obtain an Article 10 Certificate for a bird that is not close-ringed, the bird must be micro-chipped or, in exceptional circumstances, fitted with a cable-tie ring issued by the licensing body. For enquiries concerning individual birds and Article 10 licence applications the relevant country agency* should be contacted. An Article 10 Certificate is not required if a bird is given away freely, and is not displayed to the public, or otherwise profited from. Please visit for further information.

*Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural Resources Wales and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Keeping And Release Barn Owl Release
Warner Brothers Caged Owl PETA

Welfare legislation

Anyone who keeps any captive animals, including Barn Owls has a duty of care under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to ensure they take reasonable steps in all circumstances to meet the welfare needs of their animals to the extent required by good practice. These welfare needs are defined as:

  • The need for a suitable environment.
  • The need for a suitable diet.
  • The need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns.
  • The need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals.
  • The need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Although we recommend captive Barn Owls are kept in a large aviary, the minimum legal cage size is defined under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 part I, section 8. This states that:

(1) If any person keeps or confines any bird whatever in any cage or other receptacle which is not sufficient in height, length or breadth to permit the bird to stretch its wings freely, he shall be guilty of an offence and be liable to a special penalty.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to poultry, or to the keeping or confining of any bird –

(a) while that bird is in the course of conveyance, by whatever means;

(b) while that bird is being shown for the purposes of any public exhibition or competition if the time during which the bird is kept or confined for those purposes does not in the aggregate exceed 72 hours; or

(c) while that bird is undergoing examination or treatment by a veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner.

In short, if a caged bird can stretch its wings to their fullest extent, then the cage meets the legal minimum size. In the case of Barn Owls, this would be something in the order of 1 metre x 1 metre. However, this is obviously inadequate for long-term housing. Please see our aviary design page.

If you have any concerns regarding a captive Barn Owl (or any animal), you should contact the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Their 24 hour cruelty line is available on 0300 1234 999. Alternatively, you can report your concerns to the RSPCA online.

The release of captive Barn Owls

Barn Owls are included in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and under Section 14 it is an offence to release or allow the escape of any Schedule 9 bird. The release of captive-bred Barn Owls is therefore illegal. No licences permitting release have been issued since 2002, when consultation on the practice ended, and it is highly unlikely that licences for the release of captive-bred Barn Owls will be issued in the foreseeable future. However, the release of Barn Owls of wild origin is permitted under a general exemption licence.

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