Birds on American TV - Specifically a barn owl on the American TV Series "Ghosts"

I saw a barn owl on the recent episode of the American TV Series “Ghosts”. I read that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, federal law since 1918, prohibits the possession of migratory birds for commercial purposes, and that includes keeping domestic bird species for use as animal actors. So, how was that TV show able to use one in the episode last week? It looked real and not A.I.-generated. I also know that barn owls live everywhere all over the world except Antarctica. So, did they use one from the U.K., or something else? I don’t think it was added using computer graphics. I have seen substitute birds in other shows like African vultures standing in for turkey vultures.


The Federal regulations implementing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are a bit complicated, but they establish a permitting system under which certain activities involving migratory birds (including the Barn Owl) can be done. The relevant passage from the Code of Fed. Regulations, Part 21, reads: “No person may take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such bird except as may be permitted under the terms of a valid permit [emphasis added-CS] issued pursuant to the provisions of this part and part 13 of this chapter.” The full text of CFR Part 21 can be found here.

I don’t know under what particular permit or use such birds as that owl in Ghosts are allowed. That’s a question for Hollywood.


It looks like your words are paraphrasing a 2016 Washington Post article:
And that article does explain why native birds may not be used by Hollywood. So, on second thought, you may be correct that a non-native Barn Owl species (which?) may have been substituted on Ghosts.

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I did not see the show yet. I wonder, was it perhaps a shot where they cut-in stock footage of a barn owl rather than employing one during the filming of the episode?

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Spoiler that won’t ruin the episode for you: No. The barn scene where they first shot the owl isn’t a cut-in. You’ll know if you watch it. They also have a scene where the owl is in a large cage inside the house. I stopped watching after that to do something else so, there may be more scenes.


Yes - That’s where I found the wording I used in my question.

Ah! Thanks! A special permit!

That law certainly explains why movies and TV shows often have exotic bird species standing in for native species. Which always aggravated me but now it makes sense. I wonder if there’s a permitting work-around if the bird is a rehab captive?

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