Harry Potter's owl takes flight to Scottish isle

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Rare owls more commonly associated with the frozen wastes of the Arctic, or the magical adventures of Harry Potter, appear to be expanding the range of their natural habitat to a remote Scottish island.

Conservation experts say last summer saw the biggest influx of snowy owls in the Outer Hebrides for more than 30 years.

Officials from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recorded sightings of up to six of the majestic hunting birds on North Uist in the Western Isles.

The birds, one of the largest owl species in Europe, have become popular in recent years since the author J K Rowling featured them in her series of Harry Potter stories and they were included in the spin-off movies based on the books.

At almost two feet in height, with a wingspan of over five feet and a ghostly white plumage which is offset by intensely bright yellow eyes and heavily feathered feet, the snowy owl makes for an imposing sight as the boy wizard's pet owl, Hegwig, which delivers his post.

Their impressive size is only beaten in Europe by the eagle owl, which has a wingspan of six and a half feet.

Although usually more at home flying over the frozen tundra of the Arctic Circle and living off lemmings in Scandinavia, the snowy owls appear to have found a new home in the Outer Hebrides, and a new source of food in the abundant rabbit population of the island.

The female snowy owl is the bigger of the species, and has slightly mottled dark spots on its breast and wings, while the male is pure white. They nest in a scrape on the ground, and in good years they line the nursery with a store of dead prey.

Last year there were also sightings in Shetland, Wester Ross and Aberdeenshire.

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