Home News Wedding season is here: Here come the owls

Wedding season is here: Here come the owls

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Juliet, who has attended many weddings and is a professional wedding MC, emerged from a black box and leapt onto the gloved arm of her manager, Duncan Black, as the happy couple exchanged vows. She turned 270 degrees and looked around.

A squeak suddenly set her in motion. Whoosh—she flew down the aisle, a small bag with two loops tied to her skinny ankles. The humans sitting beneath her outstretched wings exclaimed. Seconds later, she landed on another outstretched arm, usually that of a best man, sometimes that of a bride or groom.

Suddenly, Juliet was the star of the wedding. After handing over the ring, she flew back into Mr. Black’s arms and received her prize: a raw chicken foot.

She then leaves the room at the same rapid pace she entered — after more than 50 million years of evolution and about 90 seconds of action — and humanity’s attention returns to the couple.

By now you should have realised that Juliet is an owl, one of several owls across the UK that have been trained to play a starring role at weddings.

According to those who make a living supplying owls, the idea of ​​having an owl at a wedding became popular in the UK more than 15 years ago. They believe the trend stems directly from the popularity of Harry Potter, in which owls act as postmen to the wizarding world.

“They are the mainstream of British weddings,” said Zoe Burke, editor of wedding planning website Hitched. She said social media also played a role. Book Tok Literary themed weddings are becoming increasingly popular not only in the UK, but also in the US and elsewhere.

“Millennials just love trends,” Ms. Burke said.

Ms. Burke said that for many couples, whether they like witchcraft or not, the owls are there primarily to make the experience special for their guests. This was the case for Lucy and Scott Robinson, who said “I do” on a sunny and breezy Tuesday afternoon in April in Stoke-on-Trent, England. At their wedding, Juliet the barn owl was the star.

“We’re not really big ‘Harry Potter’ fans,” said Ms. Robinson, 31. The couple had been looking for a special surprise for their guests and stumbled upon the owl option while searching online.

Mr Robinson, 33, said adding birds to a wedding seemed “a no-brainer”.

Juliet was one of seven birds at the Robinson wedding. Falconer Mr. Black of Birds in Hand brought birds of prey (including a steppe eagle, a Gyrfalcon and a Harris’s hawk) to perform bird shows for guests at the reception, who took turns putting on the falconer’s gloves and placing the birds on their arms.

While costs vary by service, a bird show at Robinson Weddings costs £745 (about $951). Photos with guests are an additional charge (about $96 per half hour). In addition to static displays, couples can also opt for a mini falconry experience, which includes birds flying back and forth among guests, for £699 (about $893).

The bride’s father, Dean McAllister, a longtime bird watcher, said he was thrilled to feel the weight of a bird in his arms for the first time (he was holding a steppe eagle). “It was a stroke of genius, in my opinion,” he said.

“I’m not a crowd person,” Mr. McAllister added, “but the birds make me special.”

For those who don’t like too much staring, the bird has another purpose: It can relieve some stress. When the barn owl flew over the guests at the Robinson wedding, everyone looked up. After a few seconds, everyone’s eyes moved away from the bride.

“I don’t like too much attention,” Ms. Robinson said.

Her groom said he thought the birds looked beautiful. “I like birds very much,” said Mr. Robinson, who thought they made guests feel comfortable. “No one felt left out.”

Overall, the owl’s wedding performance went well, said falconer Mr Black, who has been taking Juliet to weddings for five years and she has never flown away with a ring.

Of course, things can go wrong occasionally. For example, if a bride always has an owl on her arm, she may not end up wearing an all-white wedding dress. In 2018, an owl delivered the ring to the altar, and then Hurt Guests at a wedding in Cheshire, England.

Yvonne Forrest, registrar at Staffordshire County Council, who officiated at Robinson’s wedding, said it was her third owl-themed wedding. She said her nephew had previously had an owl as a ring bearer when he got married. At that wedding, the owl had to fly over a small body of water. Instead, the owl flew off into the woods – taking the real ring with it – and the ceremony was delayed for half an hour as wedding goers frantically chased it.

Wedding photographer Sarah Elvin, who has shot hundreds of weddings across the UK over the past 15 years, said when the trend first became popular more than a decade ago, there was hardly a wedding without flying ring hands. She said she has seen owls become a mainstay at UK weddings again since the pandemic.

For guests in Stoke-on-Trent this spring, the birds were not only a novelty but also entertainment as the couple stepped out to pose for photographs.

“They’re magnificent,” said Richard Finch, 33, a friend and current roommate of the Robinsons, who added that he had never seen a bird of prey at a wedding. “This is so different,” Mr. Finch said, looking at the birds perched on branches. He said he found the birds a little scary (“They put a sense of awe in you”) but he also “felt a little sorry for them.”

Animal rights campaigners do not support the use of birds of prey at weddings or any form of entertainment. Isabel McNally, of the charity Animal Freedom, said using owls as ring bearers goes against the birds’ nocturnal instinct to rest during the day.

“Owls are wild animals and should be treated with respect,” Ms McNally said. “Keeping owls for show and entertainment is completely unethical.”

Falconer Mr Black said his work with birds was not only focused on entertainment but also education and conservation.

“Our birds are well cared for and exercised regularly, and we also ensure they are not subjected to any stress during public events,” he said.

There is always a certain amount of risk when dealing with wild animals. “It could have gone badly,” Ms. Robinson said after Juliet successfully handed the ring to best man Mitch Herod.

“Everything went very smoothly,” said Herod, the groom’s schoolmate. In the end, the only minor mishap was human error, which Herod readily admitted: “I did drop the ring.”

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