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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Rare snowy owls to return to Arctic
Snowy owl
There are only a few thousand snowy owls left
Seven snowy owls, made famous by the Harry Potter film, are set to return home to the Arctic after being rescued in the middle of the Atlantic.

The birds of prey were picked up earlier this year by fishermen after getting lost while migrating to new feeding grounds and have since been scattered around Europe.


Snowy owls

  • Weight: 2 kg (4.4 pounds)
  • Height: 60 cm (2 feet)
  • Wingspan: 1.5 m (5 feet)


  • On Friday, five of the owls will be sent from Belgium to Finnish Lapland, while two others rescued by Spanish fishermen are set to follow on Tuesday.

    They will be placed in northern wildlife reserves for observation, but not released as their rescue came too late, Veijo Miettinen, a Finnish environmental official, told BBC News Online.

    They will instead live in very large cages where they will be able to fly freely.

    However, their offspring may one day be released into the wild, Mr Miettinen says.

    The owls landed on fishing boats, many days' travel from the coast, ready to die, he says.

    The fishermen took them in and fed them, before taking them to animal rescue centres.


    When lemmings are scarce, snowy owls fly southwards

    Mr Miettinen, of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, has since campaigned to get the snowy owls returned to the Arctic.

    The owls' plight was highlighted by a Spanish student in Finland who contacted the Finnish authorities after hearing about the rescued owls during a holiday in Spain.

    Rare species

    They are not an endangered species as such, but a rare species with only a few thousand left in the world, Mike Everett, a spokesman for the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told BBC News Online.

    Harry Potter's owl, Hedwig
    Harry Potter's owl, Hedwig
    They are thinly distributed over enormous areas over the world's northern parts, predominantly in Canada, Russia, Greenland and Iceland, with a smaller presence in Scandinavia.

    In the case of the seven owls, a fluke current may have carried them to the fishing boats in the Atlantic Ocean where they were rescued, Mr Everett says.

    They have a nomadic lifestyle as they are heavily dependent on the lemming population for survival, he says.

    When lemmings are scarce, snowy owls escape the harsh winters of the Arctic Circle by flying southwards.

    "This means they appear in areas when they're not normally seen, searching for food," Ingar Jostein Oeien, a scientist with the Norwegian Ornithological Society, told BBC News Online.

    The snowy owl rose to fame after starring as the messenger owl, Hedwig, in the Harry Potter film.

    See also:

    18 Dec 01 | UK
    23 Nov 01 | N Ireland
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