Conservation through Science under God

Ohio falconers could use owls for hunting under new legislation
Nov 12, 2020 07:14 ET

[Reprinted from original]

COLUMBUS, Ohio—New Ohio Senate legislation has a high-flying goal: allowing falconers in the state to use owls to hunt for small game, such as squirrels and rabbits.

Senate Bill 380, introduced Tuesday by state Sen. Frank Hoagland of Jefferson County, is the brainchild of Mick Brown, president of the Ohio Falconry Association. Brown, who lives in Martins Ferry, Ohio, said in an interview that he’s thought about the idea for a long time, noting that falconers in many other states are already allowed to use owls for hunting.

If the bill passes, only the 100 or so Ohioans with a state-issued falconry permit would be able to use owls for hunting. To become a licensed falconer in Ohio, people must first pass a written test and complete a two-year apprenticeship.

“There may be not that many who will do it,” Brown said. “It’s just, we’d like to be able to do it if we choose to do it, and it doesn’t seem like there’s a reason why we shouldn’t be able to.”

As the current Ohio legislative session ends in December, SB 380 would have to fly quickly through both the Senate and the Ohio House for it to reach Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk.

It’s generally against the law to keep owls as pets. SB 380 seeks to add falconry to the short list of allowed reasons for licensed and trained individuals to keep owls, which currently includes things like rehabilitation and breeding.

Falconers usually acquire birds by trapping juveniles and raising them, Brown said. Falconers in other states, Brown said, have told him that allowing the use of owls in hunting doesn’t hurt the local owl population. Once a bird’s taken for falconry, Brown said, it “usually lives a long, good life” that includes food, vitamins, and medical care.

Brown said he couldn’t think of a particular benefit to using owls for hunting over hawks, falcons, or other birds already permitted to be used in falconry, other than that owls are nocturnal.

“If you want to hunt at night, it’d be pretty cool,” he said.

But Karla Bloom, executive director of the International Owl Center in Minnesota, said she’s opposed to the bill because the risks are higher for owls than hawks if they’re kept by an inept falconer.

Usually, falconers will take in hawks for a year or two and then release them back into the wild, Bloom said. But owls raised in captivity usually don’t survive long if they’re released, she said. That means that falconers who take in owls will need to keep them for the rest of the birds' lives, which can be more than 20 years.

“It’s not really fair to the bird unless you seriously know what you’re doing, because it’s a huge commitment,” she said. “I’m not saying it cannot be done -- it certainly can and has been done effectively and well. But that’s not the norm.”

In addition, Bloom said, it’s usually harder to train owls to follow instructions than it is for hawks.

“Training an owl is a little bit more like training a cat,” she said. “It’s like, ‘I’ll do it if I feel like it.’”