An Owl For A Pet | Meet Nixta From Japan | Interview With Kay Kinomoto
A commonly asked question is if it’s legal to have an owl for a pet.
Many are seduced by the idea without realizing exactly how demanding such a commitment really is. It’s also a controversial topic since laws and regulations varies around the world. In many countries it’s illegal without special permits and training. This is the case in the United States.
In Japan the laws are different. Here it’s allowed to keep an owl as a pet if it was bred in captivity. We have been very fortunate to talk to Kay Kinomoto. She is a familiar face in her local area and among owl lovers on social media. But the name everyone knows is Nixta, which is her beloved and well-documented pet owl.
1. Please tell our readers a bit about your owl Nixta. How old is he and what species?
Nixta is a male Bengal Eagle Owl, which is also called Indian Eagle Owl or Rock Eagle Owl. He was born on January 2, 2018 so he is 2 years and 9 months old as of October 2020. His species is originally from the foot of the Himalaya Mountains in India/Nepal but Nixta was born in Osaka, Japan from captive parents.
His name Nixta means “night” in Greek.
(Greek spelling and pronunciation)
I didn’t know his gender when I got him as an owlet, so I just picked a name that I liked. That’s how he ended up getting a rather sissy name [laughing].
2. How come you ended up with an owl for a pet? Where did you find him?
I have a great love for animals, but birds of prey always had a special place in me. This is because a long time ago, I was riding my motorcycle alone along the mountain roads when a hawk came out of nowhere and he followed me over quite a distance. We would exchange eye contacts whilst riding and something convinced me that we had communicated without words. After flying along my bike for some time, he sent me a final glance and at that time, I knew he was saying goodbye. He then flew off leaving me in tears. Since this day, I just loved these magnificent birds.
Then one day, I found out that it was legal in my country, Japan, to own birds of prey, provided they were captive bred. Initially I started looking into how I could get a hawk like the one I met in the mountains, but from talking to people and visiting falconry places, I came to a decision that an owl would be more suitable for my environment. There were three main reasons for this decision.
- Owls in the wild do not fly around to hunt for prey so they are not stressed by staying roosted. Since I do not have a large aviary to let the bird fly around, this was better.
- Owls drop their poop straight down whereas other raptors shoot out their poop behind them. Since I was going to have the bird inside my house, I didn’t fancy the idea of having poop shot out all over the place.
- Other raptors pluck out the feather or fur from their prey before eating it while owls swallow whole. If the prey is big, they might tear it into smaller pieces but will still swallow the chunk. This means less mess with no feathers and fur flying all over my house. Hence I decided to get an owl, which I loved as much as any other birds of prey.
I had to look for and wait for a suitable owlet to come along. In Nixta’s case, I already had a smaller owl, Popo (Northern White-faced Owl), so I already had a network of people in the raptor circle who knew I was looking for a Bengal Eagle Owl. One day, one of them told me there were 5 owlets available in Osaka. It took me 8 hours round trip to travel to Osaka the following day to go pick him up. By the time I arrived only 2 were left and Nixta was one of them.
3. How tame can an owl become?
4. Tell us about a normal day with Nixta; from getting up to bedtime. What does he eat? What do you do together? When does he sleep?
I don’t really know when he’s up in the morning, because he’s always awake by the time I come to see him. This species of owl are crepuscular, meaning they are active during low light periods like dusk and dawn and that’s when they hunt. However, in Nixta’s case, since he doesn’t need to hunt for food, he seems to sleep whenever he wants to. So he can be up during the day or even sleeping during the night. He seems to be most active late afternoon or early evening though.
He’s fed twice a day. First in the morning and then at night before I go to bed. Different people say different things as to what is best for food. Many owl owners feed them one-day-old chicks or quail. Nixta is fed strictly mice, after I remove the intestines, stomach and bladder, because this is where there potentially could be bacteria. He eats 3-4 mice a day.
The reason why I feed only mice is because my bird specialist vet, who looks after Nixta, strongly recommends this diet. In his opinion, chicks and quail are also birds so if they carry some disease, it’s possible that Nixta might also catch it by eating them.
Mice, on the other hand, are of a different animal family. Therefore it’s very unlikely that a disease could be passed on. Just like your flu will not pass on to your dog even if you stay close together. Mice costs almost 10 times more than chicks or quail in my country, so Nixta is a super pampered owl who’s eating more luxurious food than my husband!
We go out together once a day, unless the weather is really bad, to the nearby park. I need to keep him on a leash when we go out. Owls do not have a homing instinct and I have not clipped his feathers, so he can fly. It is illegal to release non-native owls and the survival rate of captive bred owls in the wild is extremely low since they have never been taught how to hunt or survive by their parents.
When we go out, Nixta hardly ever flies anyway, unless he feels very threatened. He seems to be very content with sitting on my shoulder. He has tried to fly away only a few times. Once when a big black dog approached us. Another time when somebody fired up some fireworks a bit too close to us. That really spooked him out.
He used to stay on my glove, which is how he’s supposed to be carried, but he quickly realized that he gets a better view on my shoulder. Since then, he absolutely refuses to stay on my glove and travels perched on my left shoulder instead. For some reason I do not understand, he always wants to perch on my left shoulder. I really wish he changed shoulders once in a while. But it doesn’t really hurt because he doesn’t grip my shoulder too tight.
We walk through a commercial area with many local shops and he’s become a local idol who is loved by the people there. Many of the shop owners don’t know my name, but they know Nixta’s. I once went to a local bakery to reserve some French bread and when I went later to pick it up, the sales slip on the wrapping said “Nixta’s mom” instead of my name.
Owls need a lot of quiet alone time. And Nixta is very happy staying quietly on his perch. But he also gets about 1-2 hours of free playtime every day, where he’s allowed to roam the house freely. That’s when I usually shoot my videos. It’s a lot of fun watching him play. He loves playing with his toys and loves this playtime, but he’s also a good boy when I need to put him back on his perch. I simply place my hands palms up close to his feet and he will climb up on them. Then all I have to do is lift him up on my hands and carry him to his spot. No fuss and very easy!
While he is out, I’m usually following him around with a box of tissue paper to clean up his poop. Birds cannot be toilet trained, so Nixta will poop wherever and whenever he needs to go. And owls poop a lot! So it’s actually a lot of work while he’s having some fun.
5. How would you describe Nixta’s personality? Please share some stories about him.
Nixta is probably one of the most active and playful owls I have ever seen. He is full of character, as you can see in many of my videos, and so much fun to watch!
When I went to Osaka to pick him up as an owlet, there were only two left of the initial five. The other one was slightly bigger than Nixta. She was absolutely beautiful and with a much paler plumage. Many people prefer the paler owls because they are considered prettier. The other owlet was smaller and darker. But after observing them, I noticed that the smaller one was a lot more active and playful. That’s why I decided that he should be my baby. I never regretted my choice. Nixta is still as playful and active as he was as an owlet.
He’s not afraid of humans at all. One day when we were in the park together, we were approached by a blind old lady. She was being led by another lady who held her hand. She told me that she was blind since birth and didn’t know what an owl looked like. I told her she could touch Nixta if she wanted to find out. Nixta usually doesn’t like being touched too much, but he might have sensed something, because this time, to my surprise, he stayed quiet and allowed the blind lady to touch all over him.
As she touched his face, his beak, his body and even his talons, her eyes welled up and she started crying. The blind old lady never imagined that she would ever have the chance to experience this. I will never forget her and this moment. I was such a proud owl mama.
6. And my final question to you. What would you recommend people to consider before getting an owl as a pet?
There’s so much to say about this. There’s some excellent reading material that is published by the International Owl Center. It’s quite lengthy, but really fun to read and I highly recommend you to check it out. I don’t think I can come up with anything better.