Without any doubt, owls are the most popular pets among Hogwarts students and the wizarding community in general. Besides being beautiful animals, they are also very useful as a mean of communication! One family can have more than one owl. Institutions, like Hogwarts, use them to send letters to new and old students regarding their school materials and other stuff. The Daily Prophet uses them as well to deliver their newspapers. As you can see, owls play a very important role in the wizarding world, and thus it is important to take good care of them and keep them happy! So without further ado, let’s this lesson begin!!
Owls and Magic
The relationship between wizards and owls has a long history. In Medieval Europe, owls were said to be loyal and trustworthy companions because of their great capacity of observation, and also because of their skill to memorize complex formulas and spells. Neville Longbottom should really start thinking about getting an owl to help him cope with all his forgetfulness!
The amazing ability that owls have to communicate so well with their owners and understand them, like Hedwig and Harry, goes back to Ancient Greece where they believed owls to be very intelligent animals. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, was usually represented with an owl over her shoulder. Some people even said that she could transfigure into an owl so she could keep an eye on her kingdom, and learn about the secrets and worries of her people. All the ones who were fond of her, walked in the streets with an owl over their shoulders or in a cage. They believed owls could understand human language and that they could talk to people if they wished to.
However, like it happened with toads and cats, which you studied in the previous lessons, owls were not always seen as friendly animals and people were scared of them. In some cultures, owls were associated with death and evil, mainly because they are night creatures and birds of prey or raptors. In China they were related with Lei Kung, the god of thunder, while in Japan they were believed to cause hunger. In Ancient Egypt, owls were the symbol of death and night, and in Ancient Rome, it was considered a bad omen if you saw an owl during the day. They thought that the only way to avoid the omen was by capturing the owl, killing it, and then throwing the ashes to the River Tiber. According to the legend, the hoots of the owls announced the death of the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar.
In other cultures, it was believed that having any part of an owl, like feathers, eyes, bones, or even the whole body; would protect that person and would give him special powers. These parts of an owl would protect the owner from rabies and epilepsy, or would give him energy, wisdom and courage. Healers from Medieval Europe kept a lot of owl parts to satisfy the demands of their clients, which were from warriors that needed strength for their future battles, to lovers who wanted to know the secrets of his/her loved one. Fortunately, nowadays all these beliefs are over and owls are very appreciated by witches and wizards!
Owl Superstitions and Beliefs
If an owl lands on the roof of your house, it is an omen of death.
A constant hooting near your house foretells death.
Irish believe that if an owl flies into a house it must be killed immediately, if not, it will take the luck of the house with it.
If an owl nest is in an abandoned house, then the house must be haunted.
An owl living in the attic of a cause will cause a pregnant woman to miscarry.
If a pregnant woman hears the shriek of an owl, her child will be a girl.
If an owl hoots at the moment of childbirth it means that the newborn will have an unhappy life.
It is of bad luck if an owl hoots three times, or if you see it during daylight.
Any man who eats roasted owl will be obedient and slave to his wife.
If you throw salt, hot peppers or vinegar into the fire, the owl will get a sore tongue and hoot no more, protecting you from bad luck.
Care of your Owl
First of all, the following concerns the general care of raptors. Raptors are birds of prey and among the most common ones we have hawks, falcons, vultures, eagles, and of course, owls. The care of these birds is very similar, but also keep in mind that some species may have special needs.
They need large enclosures because they are active birds. It can be an indoor or outdoor enclosure. If it is indoor, your enclosure should be big enough so that your pet can perform normal activities like standing without crouching, spreading its wings and flapping, and perching in an elevated area. If you choose an outdoor enclosure, make sure it is high and long enough for the bird to be able to take flight from a perch located in an elevated position. No matter which one you choose, it is important that the enclosure is located in a quiet place, free from excessive human traffic or loud noises, and also where there are no extreme temperatures since raptors can’t tolerate them.
Enclosures for nocturnal raptors, like owls, should be kept dark so they can rest during daylight hours. Owls can’t be exposed directly to sunlight because they become stressed.
The enclosure should include a water dish, a bath pan, and a large stone.
Your enclosure should also include a perch for your owl to land. Perches should be flexible to avoid foot injuries (cork bark and soft wood are recommended materials to build a perch), and its diameter should be appropriate to the size of the bird. The perch should be low enough that the bird does not make contact with the ceiling of its enclosure but high enough that no feathers touch the ground.
Owls will also appreciate a nesting box in their enclosure. These boxes are made of wood and are entirely enclosed, only leaving a hole for the owl to enter and exit easily.
The enclosure should be cleaned on a regular basis, washing, scrubbing, and disinfecting all areas.
Raptors eat a diet of meat, which can include fish, insects, small reptiles and mammals. The diet should be as close as possible as the one it would eat in the wild, and also you should establish a routine, feeding your pet at the same time of the day. Owls will prefer to be fed in the evening and what they like more are insects and mice.
Raptors should be fed with prey items so they get their proper nutrition. It is recommended that these prey items have eaten a meal before dying because it adds more nutritional value for your owl. If you find this too disgusting, you don’t have to worry, there are also frozen prey items available!!! These items should be defrosted and fully warmed before giving it to your pet, and if it is too big, the best thing you can do is to cut it up into appropriately sized pieces.
Avoid giving nutritional supplements to your raptor. They grow healthier if fed with prey items, and an excess of supplements can led to a deficiency of Vitamin A.
It is important that you don’t offer dead animals found in the wild to your pet. It can weaken its immune system because it may not have natural resistance to the bacteria found in the dead animal.
Regarding water, some raptors may drink water in hot weather, and some others may drink regularly. Drinking water must be changed when it is soiled and water dishes should be kept in a shaded are so that the water doesn’t become too hot.
Health and Cleaning:
Raptors need to bathe themselves with water to keep their feathers in good condition. Include a bath pan or bucket for your pet. The bath pan should be wide enough for the bird to move but shouldn’t be too deep so the bird’s head doesn’t submerge. This water must be changed daily. Due to their vulnerability to extreme weathers, raptors shouldn’t bathe at late hours of night when the climate starts to go down. It would be a good idea if you remove its bath pan in the afternoon hours.
A stone or rough surface should be needed for the bird to use to hone its beak to an appropriate length. If you don’t have one your pet’s beak can overgrow and then you will have to file it down. If that is the case, you will have to use a rotary tool to gently file small amounts of the beak, while somebody else is holding your pet still. Your task will be over when the upper and lower part of the beak fit perfectly together when closed. You will have to do this very carefully!
Talons should be also trimmed from time to time or otherwise they will grow curved and eventually harm your owl’s foot. You can trim the talons with the same rotary tool used for beak filing and you will also need the help of another person, Once again, do this very carefully and avoid harming your owl.
How to know if your pet is healthy? It appears alert (not too aggressive and no too timid); it has a shiny and full feathering; it has a good body weight; it has straight, scab free legs and toes; and it is agile and strong in flight.
You should check your owl’s feet, feathers and beak at least every month, and you should also weight it regularly. Due to the presence of feathers, it is difficult to know by simple sight if your bird has lost or gained weight, so it is recommended to weight it to get an idea of your pet’s state of health.
You may want to have a pair of leather gloves! These will protect your hands and wrists from your owl’s talons while handling it.
It would also be a good idea if you tame your owl to get used to humans. Doing this will not only help to reduce panicked flights and injuries (raptors can be easily stressed and disturbed at the sight of people), but will also cause your bond and friendship to increase! Taming your pet can be very time consuming but the reward will be worth it! When training your bird your motions should be slow but confident; you should speak in a soft voice; and you should avoid direct stares, if you don´t the bird may perceive it as a challenge.
Zoonoses are diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans, so the best way to avoid them is by washing your hands before and after handling your pet.
Diseases: Once again, remember that the following is just a description of some diseases that your pet can suffer and that will help you to recognize symptoms. Please consult your vet if your pet happens to be ill.
Aspergillosis aka Asper: Is a fungal disease of the respiratory track which is most commonly seen in young or stressed birds, obstructing substances in the respiratory pathways. Caused by inhalation or ingestion of spores in the air; and dirty enclosure conditions. Symptoms: anorexia, rapid breathing, voice changes, depression, lethargy, and weight loss.
Avian Influenza: A contagious respiratory disease which can take several forms, causing vaccines to be ineffective due to the changing nature of the disease. Transmitted through contact with infected birds or people. Symptoms: Lethargy, depression, diarrhea, ocular discharge.
Bumblefoot: Foot infection which is often seen in birds that are kept in areas with improper flooring or perches. Caused by a bacteria contracted from food held in the talons; due to perches too small for the bird using them; or by overgrown talons. Symptoms: scabs on the bottom of the bird's foot that reveals puss when removed.
Capillariasis: Infestation of the small intestine by a nematode, which is a round worm, and can be fatal. It can also affect the esophagus. Caused by feeding on infected prey. Symptoms: lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss, and repeated attempts to remove an apparent obstruction in the throat.
External Parasites: Parasites that live outside the bird’s body. Includes ticks, mites, fleas, and lice. Transmitted through contact with parasites or eggs from infected material, or through contact with an infected bird. Symptoms: scaly areas of skin (especially legs or face), abnormal development of new feathers, and poor feather condition.
Hypoglycemia: A dangerous and fatal disease that causes low blood sugar level condition. Caused due to an improper or insufficient diet. Symptoms: lethargy, muscle twitching or shaking, and convulsions.
Internal parasites: Parasites that live inside the bird’s body. Symptoms: parasites may be visible in fecal samples, diarrhea, regurgitation, weight loss, loss of appetite, and poor feather condition.
Marek’s Diseases: A herpes type of virus that can be fatal and that affects young birds. Transmitted through contact with infected birds. Symptoms: lameness, drooping wings, paralysis, and internal cancerous growths.
Newcastle Disease: Viral disease that affects many parts of the bird’s body. Transmitted through contact with infected birds or substances. Symptoms: sneezing, coughing, soft eggs, cessation of egg production, loss of appetite, excessive water consumption, looking downward constantly, and paralysis.
Tuberculosis: Contagious disease that can be fatal. Transmitted through contact with infected animals or humans. Symptoms: weakness, lethargy, coughing, sneezing.
Owl Hall of Fame
Hedwig: Harry Potter’s pet owl, Hedwig is snowy white with amber eyes, and was given to him by Rubeus Hagrid as a gift for his eleventh birthday. Harry named her after finding that name in his book A History of Magic. Hedwig is a very intelligent owl that loves Harry very much and is very attached to him. She provided Harry with messages, package carriage and loyal companionship. She is also known to have her own personality, staring and hooting at Harry reproachfully, or nibbling his ears or fingers to show her love.
Pigwidgeon: Also known as “Pig”, Pigwidgeon is Ron Weasley’s pet owl. It was given to him by Sirius Black after finding out that Scabbers, his pet rat, was actually Peter Pettigrew. Ginny Weasley named the owl because she thought that name was cute. Pigwidgeon is extremely hyper, loud, very small, resembles a “fluffy tennis ball”, and has been known to show off for people. He gets very excited whenever they ask him to deliver a letter, unfortunately, most of the times the letters are too heavy for him! Although Ron acts rude to Pigwidgeon in public, he truly loves and is attached to Pig because he is his first owl.
Errol: He is the family owl of the Weasleys. Errol is a grey owl that resembles a “molting feather duster”. He is old, has poor eyesight and thus hits objects in flight and loses consciousness during long and short journeys.
Hermes: Percy Weasley’s pet owl. It was given to him as a reward for becoming a Gryffindor prefect in his fifth year at Hogwarts. As a curious note, Hermes was the name of the god’s messenger in Greek Mythology. What an appropriate name for an owl, don’t you think?
Owl from Winnie the Pooh: He is a fictional character from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, which later were used as a base to make Disney’s Winnie the Pooh cartoons. It is a tall owl that measures 28 inches tall and his wings can reach a length of 42 inches when fully stretch. He is supposed to be the wisest in the 100 Acre Wood and his favorite food is the afternoon tea. He enjoys to give advice and to tell anecdotes and opinions, even though the other don’t ask for them! He especially likes to tell stories related to his relatives and his personal favorite is the one about her aunt who once laid a seagull’s egg mistakenly!! Owl knows how to read, but only when no one is looking over his shoulder, and he is capable of explaining things. Unlike the original cast of Winnie the Pooh, Owl, along with Rabbit, are the only ones who are not stuffed animals and are the closest to being real animals. The original voice for Owl was provided by Hal Smith, but after his death, Andre Stojka has provided his voice.
Big Mama: An owl that appears in Disney’s The Fox and the Hound, an animated movie which was released in 1981and which was based on Daniel P. Mannix’s novel of the same name. Big Mama is a good hearted owl which finds Tod, an orphaned owl, and arranges for him to be adopted by the Widow Tweed. When Tod and Copper, the neighbor’s hound puppy, become playmates and vow to remain friends for ever, Big Mama is the first one to distrust their friendship because they are natural enemies and people wouldn’t understand that they are friends. Big Mama is also the one who introduces Vixey, a female fox, to Tod when he was left at a game preserve after Tweed realizes his pet is no longer safe due to his neighbor’s (Amos Slade) constant attempts to hunt him. In the movie Big Mama was voiced by Pear Bailey and she is the main singing voice of the movie, singing three songs: “Best of Friends”, “Lack of Education”, and “Appreciate the Lady”.
Henry Herbert Hoot, D.H.: An owl that appears in The Princess who believed in Fairy Tales, a book written by Marcia Grad. The initials D.H. on Henry Herbert Hoot’s name stand for “Doctor of the Heart”. He has a long name, but you can simply call him Doc if you are his friend! This story has as a main character a princess called Victoria, whose biggest dream is to find her Prince Charming. Doc is one of her best friends, a wise owl who likes to sing and play the banjo! When Victoria finds her Prince Charming but then she realizes he is not as charming as he seemed, it is Doc who motivates her to embark on a changeling journey of self-discovery through the Path of Truth. Visiting the “Sea of Emotion”, the “Land of Illusion”, the “Campsite for Lost Traveleres”, the “Land of Is”, and the “Temple of Truth”, Doc becomes a loyal companion and constant aid in Victoria’s journey, helping her to discover that fairy tales can come true, although in a different way that she thought.
The Owl: A character from one of Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales. “The Owl”, is a tale that appears in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Household Tales, and is the story of an owl that arrives to a little town and refuges in a barn, scaring all the habitants. What happens to the owl, you may ask? Well, if you want to know, you better do your extra credit because it will be about this tale!
That's all for now! I really hope that you enjoyed the lesson, found it interesting and didn’t fall asleep at the middle of it! Thanks for staying with me! Now you can go and complete your assignment!
The Sorcerer's Companion by Allan Zola Kronzek and Elizabeth Kronzek