Raising owls and owlets…

posted in: Feeding strategy, Owls, Rescue | 1

“I have raised pet owls.

“They need roughage in the diet. If the writer is in Malaysia or another ASEAN country, the problem is easier to solve.

“If the writer is in Singapore, it can still be solved, but will cost more money.

“First things first. Is the bird in question an owl or an owlet? By which I mean is the bird currently smaller than about 12 cm (5 inches) and would its adult size be assumed to be less than 16 cm (6 to 7 inches) or is the bird larger than that?

“Insects and lizards make up a large proportion of the diet of the small owls.

“The larger owls eat birds and rodents.

“Now to the feeding. Let’s start with a larger owl. In the old days in Singapore, there were still many poultry farmers, and hatcheries that provided chicks for their business. Not all chicks hatch properly. For very nominal payments, the hatchery owners were more than happy to sell me their deformed chicks which farmers would reject. And in a large commercial hatchery, there are always at least a dozen deformed chicks every week.

“Simply cut them up, and feed them to the owls, feathers, bones, everything. This will provide the roughage that the owls need. And this will be the diet even after the owls reach adulthood. Sometimes, hatchery owners have bad sessions, and have loads of deformed chicks. In such a situation, those you don’t need today can be frozen for future use. But please ensure that they are properly thawed and served at room temperature to the owl.

“If you do not have a supply of deformed chicks, then there is something else that works, but only as an interim measure. If you have a pet cat or dog, you can comb it out, cut up the hair, and roll it together with chicken flesh before feeding this to the owl. I must admit that this is not an ideal solution, but it might stop your owl’s stomach troubles until something better comes along.

“But please make absolutely sure that there are no grooming conditioners, insecticides, or flea shampoos in the hair that you intend to feed to your owl.

Buffy Fish-owl (Ketupa ketupu) chick - Photo by Johnny Wee
Buffy Fish-owl (Ketupa ketupu) chick – Photo by Johnny Wee

“Now, if you have a little owlet, you feed it with some meat (with hair, skin and bones attached) but the bulk of the diet should comprise insects. Fortunately, crickets are now bred on a commercial basis, and most bird shops sell them.

“The crickets are usually not in good condition when you buy them from the shop. The pet shop owners don’t want them defecating and urinating to mess up their displays, so they have minimal food and drink before being sold. They are therefore malnourished and not very nutritious.

“For the long term, you need to feed your owlet with well-fed insects. I have found that a mixture of high quality chicken food and fish food fattens crickets very well. And for moisture, I give them orange slices. This also provides Vitamin C. Don’t worry, it is not expensive. Crickets are small, and even a hundred of them take a week to finish a single orange.

“My system for my songbirds is to buy crickets and fatten them for a week, then only feed them to the birds in the second week, while a new batch of crickets is being fattened.

“Songbirds have no problems with catching and killing their own crickets. For a baby owlet, you might have to kill the crickets. The way to do so is to put them in a bottle, and put the bottle in the freezer. But make sure that the crickets are thawed to room temperature before offering them to the owlet.

“I have to mention superworms and mealworms. These are the larvae of beetles, and are sold in pet shops for feeding birds. Some aviculturalists have reservations about using them as bird food, but I find that they are OK as long as you are very careful.

“First, like crickets, they are usually malnourished when they arrive in the shops, packed in oatmeal. You have to fatten them with chicken feed.

“Second, they are full of starch, and do not make for a good, balanced diet. They should never be the staple diet of your bird, but can only be served as side dishes.

“And third – absolutely the most important point. They can kill baby birds. Adult birds know how to make sure that the worms are truly dead before consuming them. Baby birds do not know this. The worms do not die immediately when swallowed, and can continue biting to damage the intestines of the baby birds.

“Make sure that mealworms and superworms are well and truly dead before you feed them to baby birds. You can kill them the same way you kill crickets, or you can simply cut the heads off with scissors.

“If you feed the owl or owlet with a diet that contains enough roughage, the stomach should stop running, and it will soon start to cast pellets. This is nothing to be alarmed about. It is absolutely natural for some types of birds to vomit out the undigestible parts of their meals a short while after eating. But it is these indigestible parts of the meal, which must be included in the diet, that allow the stomach to function properly.”

Lee Chiu San
24th November 2017

Note: The above is in response to Chrystal’s comment “I rescued a baby owlet, the eyes only opened a week ago, i cut meat and liver into tiny pieces with a little water to feed it, but i have noticed that its having a runny tummy and I don’t know what to do, can someone please give me advice asap please I don’t want to lose the owlet!.” See HERE.

owlet [Chrystal] (1)

Chrystal wrote on 25th November: “Thank you sooo much, I appreciate the fast response, I caught some lizards yesterday, cut them into pieces and the owlet ate it as if it was pudding, I see that its stomach is much better now, I’ll keep in touch. Attached is a photo of the owlet (above). Thank you all once again.”

  1. Lee Chiu San

    Dear Chrystal,

    If you have been able to catch lizards so quickly, I assume that you are in an ASEAN country, where house lizards are plentiful. From your picture of the owlet, it looks big enough to swallow an ordinary house gecko whole, so there is no need to go through the mess of cutting up the lizard.

    You will be surprised at the size of the prey that even small owls can swallow whole!

    To kill the lizards before feeding them to the owlet, simply put them in a bottle and leave it in the freezer for a short while. But make sure that the lizards are back at room temperature before feeding the bird.

    Many bird fanciers in Indonesia, Malaysia (and formerly Singapore) prefer to feed their pets with supple skinks rather than house geckoes.

    The supple skink is the small, shiny lizard with noticeably tiny legs that you find on the edges of garden paths, usually beside the paving stones.

    It is preferable to the House Gecko as bird food because it is smaller, less likely to hurt the bird by fighting back, and less likely to have come into contact with insecticides and other contaminants that House Geckoes are commonly exposed to.

    In Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia bird shops sell supple skinks for their customers to feed to their pets. I don’t know about in the Philippines. In Singapore, these things used to be available, but have vanished along with the hatcheries that sell chicks to poultry farmers, and also most of the farms.

    You will be surprised at the amount that baby birds can eat, and the frequency at which they need to be fed. Though I would feed other types of baby birds more than six times per day, owls, being predators, cannot catch prey at fixed schedules. So, unlike seed or fruit eating birds that attend to their offspring almost continuously, owls would feed their babies only perhaps four times per day during the growing stages. But each meal would be a big one, enough to really fill the baby bird. You must do the same at each meal, and keep offering food until the owlet stops eating.

    I have to stress that ample feeding is critical in the month or so when the baby bird is in the nest. If the baby is not well fed during this critical period, it will NEVER reach full size and full potential. I would also suggest that you add some insects to the diet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.