By Sam Threadgill, Director


Although a few species of owls, such as the Little Owl and the Short Eared Owl are diurnal, (meaning they are active during the day) and some are crepuscular (meaning they are active during dawn and dusk), the vast majority of owls are nocturnal.

Many owls have evolved to become highly skilled predators during nighttime hours. Owls eyes’ are specially adapted to see in low light levels. For example, barn owls’ eyes are on average twice as sensitive than human eyes. Interestingly, owls are unable to move their eyes in any direction, instead having to move their whole head to look around. This is no issue, however, as they are able to swivel their head by approximately 270°!

During our investigation, Tether and Torment, we found that 23% of birds tethered in bird of prey zoos in the UK were nocturnal. This means that these animals, who would not normally be ‘out’ during the day, were tied down and put on display during daylight hours without any form of escape. Despite government zoo licensing guidance stating that owls should never be tethered, this advice was largely ignored.

Owls are secretive by nature due to most species being nocturnal and being tethered in full daylight goes completely against the instincts of most owl species. In bird of prey zoos, these shy creatures have to endure being repeatedly handled and well as being exposed to the loud noises and stress of large crowds during the day, something they would otherwise avoid.

In the wild, nocturnal species of owls use their highly adapted bodies to silently move through the night, hunting small mammals such as voles or mice. Owls’ wing feathers have serrated edges to reduce noise and effectively allow the animal to fly without making any sound, an extremely useful ability meaning that prey who are listening out for any noises during the night, can’t hear them.

The whole process of captivity forces these birds to live entirely unnatural lives, stopping owls from following their most basic instincts.

This year for Zoo Awareness Weekend we are speaking out for owls in captivity! You can take part too!

TAKE ACTION for owls in captivity