"Harry Potter" Owl Scenes Alarm Animal Advocates

John Roach
for National Geographic News
November 16, 2001

View a Photo Gallery of the Owls in the Harry Potter Books: Go>>

A bespectacled 11-year-old boy's name may be in the title of the movie, but British animal protection groups fear that Harry Potter's lovable messenger/pet will steal the show and lead to a surge of interest in keeping owls as pets.

As the film based on author J.K. Rowling's best-selling books about the adventures of Harry Potter at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft debuts this month, several groups in the United Kingdom have voiced concern about the potential welfare of owls given as gifts this holiday season.

They fear that when people realize the difficulty of keeping an owl as a pet, the raptors—known to be temperamental—will be abandoned to a barn or released into the outdoors where they most likely will starve to death.

"The snowy owl is featured in this particular movie. We understand that Harry Potter keeps it in a parrot cage, which is against everything we know," said Jenny Thurston, a trustee at the World Owl Trust at Muncaster Castle near the village of Ravenglass, England. "That is horrendous. It will foul up people's imagination."

Legal to Keep Owls in the U.K.

The concern has been an issue mainly in the United Kingdom, where it is legal to buy and keep owls. In the United States, keeping owls as pets is illegal under most circumstances due to their protection under various federal, state, and local laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

In the United Kingdom, a snowy owl like Hedwig, who serves as Harry's messenger/pet in the Harry Potter movie, can be bought for about 400 pounds (U.S. $576), said Thurston.

Owl Care

"To keep [a snowy owl] correctly, you need the biggest aviary you could ever build," said Thurston. "It is a big heavy bird, and in the wild it would fly for miles. We are talking an aviary of a minimum 20 to 30 feet (six to nine meters) long and as deep as you could make it and at least ten feet (three meters) high."

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