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Melanistic Barn Owl | "Dusk" taken at Happisburgh Owls on August 17th, 2014
Credit: Jo Garbutt (jo_garbutt on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

This week, I read an article by Christopher Hooton, Senior Reporter for The Independent and was amused to learn that an Owl bar will be opening in Soho (London, England) from March 19th - 25th, 2015.

Took some hunting around but we found the Owl Cafe in Akihabaradennis crowley (dpstyles on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericWhen I researched this event further, I discovered that Annie the Owl is "The Queen" who decided to visit London (with 5 others owls) to "meet the people."

At first glance, Annie appears to be a melanistic barn owl (shown above).

According to Just For Fun:

"Each of the six owls has a name and personality, and each comes with a professional falconer that will accompany the birds at all times."

I later learned that profits from the sale of tickets to this event will be donated to The Barn Owl Centre of Gloucestershire which seemed to be caught off guard by this news.

The centre's founder, Vince Jones stated February 25th in the Gloucester Citizen:

"I am not saying we agree or disagree with it. We are just not involved."

Unfortunately, organizers of the event told the media "that sales from tickets will be donated to The Barn Owl Centre charity where the birds live." 

Apparently, this information was false and animal rights activists attacked The Barn Owl Centre via Twitter and over the phone.

The Barn Owl Centre was founded in 1997 and is the 'only one of its kind in the country' devoted to helping barn owls that have been mistreated or abandoned.

I was pleased to read a second press release from Annie the Owl which clearly stated:

"The owls are not provided by The Barn Owl Centre. The donations will help their new project, The Owl Garden."

Now That We've Set the Record Straight

Are Owl Cafés and Bars a Good Idea?

When I wrote A Purrfect Duo: Cats in Coffee Shops, I felt that yes, housing cats in these shops helps people emotionally, socially, and probably physically as well. The cats, who might otherwise become feral, learn to trust and bond with humans (who might end up adopting them).

Owl | At 鳥のいるカフェ 木場店 Tori no iru Cafe Kiba branchToukou Sousui (sousui on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericBut owls are not a domesticated species. So I do have some concerns about housing them in cafés and bars. 

According to the International Owl Center, it's illegal to keep owls without special permits in most countries.

In some instances, where owls have been abandoned young (or mistreated), they might be 'better off' interacting with other owls and people in these facilities. I would hope that properly trained handlers accompany these precious creatures at all times.

The key point is that the owls in these shops should be those who cannot be returned to the wild, for whatever reason.

A Second Chance at Life

In a 2008 article by Charlotte Bailey in The Telegraph, I learned that melanism is a 100,000-to-one gene mutation in barn owls which causes their feathers to be black - the opposite of an albino.

The Hereford Owl Rescue's Baroness Sasa Vonbarth und Kippenruer explained: 

"Melanistic owls are usually killed at birth or chucked out of the nest by their mothers. The parents think that because a chick is not white they shouldn't feed it."

She also mentioned:

"However, if [a melanistic owl] got out into the wild, it'd be dead within 12 hours. You would think black would work at night but in reality it would be mobbed and killed by other owls."

Melanistic owls that have survived to adulthood appear to be only those raised in captivity. At the time of Bailey's article, there were only three in Britain. I recently found out about "Dusk", one of two melanistic barn owls at Happisburgh Owl Barn in Norfolk, England. Dusk was chosen to be my intro photo. Perhaps only five of these rare owls even exist in England.

Meet Melanistic Barn Owl Baby "Cinders"

Melanistic Barn Owl baby | "Cinders" Taken at Happisburgh Owls on August 17th, 2014
Credit: Jo Garbutt (jo_garbutt on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

About Owl Cafés

Tokyo Owl Cafe | No room at the Owl Cafe, flights today by reservation onlyJohn Gillespie (johnji on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 GenericIn August 2014, La Carmina wrote a fascinating piece in Business Insider about Tokyo's Fukuro no Mise which means "Shop of Owls."

In it, she suggest showing up an hour early (at least) to make a reservation. La Carmina had to wait three hours to get inside. The cost, which includes a gift book and a drink, was about $16.77 USD or 2000 yen. 

Apparently, there are numerous owl cafés in Japan. Some of them serve food and drinks (often in separate areas, away from the owls). If you plan to visit one, be sure to understand their protocol. Although these owls are used to crowds, they cannot be potty trained.

It's also important that you understand how to hold or pet them. According to Linda Lombardi's article in Yahoo News on January 21st, 2015, guests are given a demonstration and detailed English instructions. For example, you should only pet them from the front of their heads and down their backs.

Photo of Tokyo Owl Cafe by John Gillespie on flickr CC-BY-SA 2.0 

Owl Pudding

Owl Pudding | At 鳥のいるカフェ 木場店 Tori no iru Cafe Kiba branch
Credit: Toukou Sousui (sousui on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Final Thoughts

I would not want to see owls exploited; healthy owls clearly belong in the wild. All of the snowy owls I've visited at Mountsberg Conservation Area have permanent injuries which have left them incapable of surviving on their own.

And Canada's northern spotted owl is barely hanging on - with only about 16 left in the wild today.

As long as these birds are well cared for and professional handlers educate the guests in these establishments, it garners a healthy respect for these magnificent birds of prey. Obviously, for most of these owls, it provides them with a second chance at life.

But as Laura Moss pointed out in her article Japan's owl cafes: Harmful or a hoot?, owls are primarily nocturnal and these daytime visits are probably stressful for them. Senior wildlife scientist, Dr. Ros Clubb, with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, stated: 

"We would have serious concerns for the welfare of wild animals kept in captivity in this way in the U.K. The conditions shown in the pictures are totally unsuitable."

I would hope that owners that run these types of establishments, proceed with the health of the owls in mind. Short visits with the public may help educate the public to their plight in the wild - but these birds need the space of a bird sanctuary to 'stretch their wings.'

Up next, enjoy a 57-second video by Reuters of the Owl Cafe, located in downtown Tokyo, Japan.

Bird Fans Flock to Japan Owl Cafe

Published on August 4th, 2014 by Reuters

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