Dining in Japan can be quite the wild experience—and not because of the cuisine. Some bars have live penguins. Cat coffee shops that allow patrons to play with the felines. There's even a café with two resident goats for customers to pet. Now people are flocking to owl cafes.
The live-bird establishments first popped up late last year, with more opening in Tokyo and Osaka this past summer, the gaming site Kotaku.com reports. "Some of the cafes even serve owl-themed snacks. Some of them allow you to hold the birds while you drink coffee, while others have much stricter rules about handling then animals." (Click here to see images.)
More about those rules, from News.au.com:
The complexity lies in the fact that humans and owls don't generally hang out together - so it's an unusual experience for both parties. Customers regularly have to line up at these owl cafes (too many people inside at one time will scare the owls) and once they are in there are a set of strict guidelines to follow, including rules like don't touch the owls unless with a staff member, disinfect your hands before and after touching an owl, don't use your camera flash and don't talk loudly.
The shops' popularity isn't all that surprising when you consider that city-dwellers have little, if any, access to nature, and that many Tokyo apartment buildings forbid pets.
Still, these birds are better left in the wild. In most countries, including the United States, it's illegal to keep owls without special permits. Besides, they make terrible pets, as the International Owl Center notes. They don't like to cuddle or be petted. They have incredibly sharp beaks and talons, which, combined with their killer instinct, can be deadly for furniture. Come mating season, they make a lot of racket ... throughout the night ... because they're nocturnal (most species, anyway). And then there are those bodily functions:
Owls molt thousands of feathers every year, and they wind up everywhere. Owls throw up pellets of fur and bones wherever they happen to be at the time. And poop happens. A lot. In addition to "regular" poop (like most birds), owls also empty out the ceca at the end of their intestines about once a day. This discharge is the consistency of chocolate pudding, but smells as bad as the nastiest thing you can imagine. And it stains something awful.
Now that's unappetizing.
For an owl-watching experience that won't require a trip to the dry cleaner, check out the Audubon Starr Ranch Barn Owl Cam, or the long-eared owl cam on Explore.org. If you have a yard, you might try enticing the birds to come to you by putting up a nesting box. Either way, there are options for getting up-close look at these incredible creatures—no purchase, or waiting in line, necessary.