Hundreds of owls are being abandoned across the country after being bought as pets by Harry Potter fans.
Sanctuaries are full of the birds now the craze has faded after the release of the final Harry Potter film last year.
And it’s feared many more have been illegally released into the wild and will have starved to death or taken over territory inhabited by smaller wild owls.
There was a surge in demand for pet owls from fans who fell in love with Harry’s cute companion Hedwig.
But the birds, which can live for 20 years, take a lot of looking after – and many owners have become fed-up of repeatedly having to clean up garages and sheds of their droppings and feathers.
One rescue worker says she is now having to care for 100 owls at her sanctuary.
Owl star: A promotional poster for one of the films
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Pam Toothill, of the Owlcentre in Corwen, North Wales, said: “Before the films were out I had six owls, now it’s 100. It’s all down to Harry Potter.
“People saw Harry’s owl in the movies and thought how cute and cuddly they looked. Now they are bored and fed-up with all the work involved looking after an owl.
“They are quite costly to look after. Ideally you need a 20ft aviary, and that costs about £900.
“I know it’s not JK Rowling’s fault, but people didn’t think enough about buying an owl before getting one.
“Owls need enough space to be able to flap their wings five times before landing back on a perch, or they get a chest infection.
“But we had one lady who was keeping two owls in her bedside cabinet in her bedroom.
“And there was a chap with a European Eagle Owl, which has a 5ft wingspan, in his one-bedroom flat. It’s insane.”
It is perfectly legal to keep an owl and no licence is needed. But anyone caught releasing a captive owl faces six months in jail or a £5,000 fine.
Thirty unwanted barn owls are among the 170 creatures being cared for at the Sanctuary Wildlife Care Centre at Ulgham, near Morpeth, Northumberland.
Owner Kim Olson said: “When people saw Harry Potter loads of them wanted an owl. They’ve kept them in their shed or garage for a bit and now they’ve got bored and they hand them in to us.
“It’s illegal to release an owl into the wild because they would take over from the native wild owls, but obviously a lot of people have ignored that law.”
Harry Potter author JK Rowling has pleaded with fans not to follow their hero and keep an owl as a pet.
“If anybody has been influenced by my books to think an owl would be happiest shut in a small cage and kept in a house, I would like to take this opportunity to say as forcefully as I can, ‘you are wrong’,” she has said.
“If your owl-mania seeks concrete expression, why not sponsor an owl at a bird sanctuary where you can visit and know that you have secured him or her a happy, healthy life.”
The Harry Potter owl craze echoes that of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film in the early 1990s, when thousands of unwanted pet terrapins were dumped in Britain’s rivers, canals and lakes.
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