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Owls are increasingly present as ring bearers at weddings.

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At a recent wedding ceremony in Britain, guests gasped when the time came for the couple to exchange rings.

A large white owl suddenly arrived, hovering in the driveway with a small pouch attached to one of its legs.

The owl, named Juno, landed on the gloved hand of the witness, who delicately removed the pouch and retrieved the wedding rings before the bird returned to its master.

This is a growing wedding trend for couples who enjoy animal appearances at their nuptials. Cats and dogs have long been the honor of couples who do not have, or do not want, anyone for this task. Wedding ceremonies are increasingly incorporating other animals, including alpacas, goats and even penguins.

Groom Derek Derby said guests probably took more photos of Juno the owl than of him and his bride at their Jan. 27 wedding in Chester, England.

Owl-shaped ring holders have become more popular at British weddings in the years following the success of the Harry Potter books and films, as a nod to Hedwig, Harry’s snowy owl who delivered unaddressed mail, said bird trainer Ryan Stocks.

Juno is one of Stocks’ two ring-bearing owls. Stocks rescues injured raptors and his Owl Adventures is one of more than 20 companies licensed to use barn owls at weddings and for educational purposes in Britain.

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The average cost of a wedding in the UK is around $26,000, according to Harnessed. In the United States, a study by The Knot found that the average wedding cost was around $35,000.

The cost of delivering an owl ring – about $400 to $600 in Britain – was worth it to Derby and his wife, Dawn Braithwaite.

“I was looking for something different to add a little extra wow factor, so having an owl ring bearer made sense,” Derby said.

While most ceremonies went well, an owl fell asleep in the rafters of a chapel in 2013 and missed the big moment, while another bird of prey flew towards the best man in 2018 and l was thrown to the ground. Owls can be dangerous when protecting their nests, but attacks on humans are rare. Handlers wear thick leather gloves to protect their skin from the raptors’ sharp, curved talons.

Juno and another barn owl named Dusty are expected to attend almost 100 weddings in Britain this year, and Stocks said he plans to take one of them to Greece for a ceremony on the island of Santorini in 2025.

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He learned to train owls and other raptors while working at the Light Water Valley Birds of Prey Center in North Yorkshire. In 2006, when his then-boss decided they should teach a few barn owls to deliver wedding rings, Stocks was all for it.

In 2011, he turned his work with raptors into a full-time career. He estimates his trained owls have appeared at more than 500 weddings.

“Owls are fascinating and majestic birds, and many people have never observed one up close,” he said. “I like talking to people about it. »

In the United States, owls and other raptors have been used in educational bird rescue programs, and they have also been trained to aid in rodent control. A famous hawk works as an artist in Vermont.

A few approved bird centers, including the Ohio School of Falconry and California’s Raptor Events, have used owls as ring bearers at weddings, but the tradition is much more popular in Britain.

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The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 made it illegal to capture, possess, or sell birds of prey and other wild birds in the United States without federal authorization.

“In the US there are more restrictions than in the UK, where we have a long tradition of falconry dating back to medieval times, when birds were used for hunting,” Stocks said.

In Britain, falconry clubs are common and barn owls can be kept by licensed masters, he said. But birds must come from certified breeders and cannot be taken from the wild.

“We have regular inspections from local authorities, but there is a tradition here of working with owls,” Stocks said. “I have loved them since I saw my first owl when I was a young child.

Stocks has 12 birds of prey – an eagle, three hawks, a falcon and seven owls – which he uses for flight shows and presentations at schools and aged care centers. Two of his barn owls are trained to deliver wedding rings, he said.

“They’re perfect for a wedding,” he said. “They are graceful when they fly, they are not too big and they are white.”

He trained Juno and Dusty when they were young to fly to and from a wielder’s gauntlet. At weddings, he attaches a clip containing a small pouch to their legs.

At weddings, owls come out of a box, look for the leather glove held by the best man and immediately fly toward him with the rings, he said.

“We have a training session first and the birds wear a GPS tag, just in case,” Stocks said. “But I’ve never seen any of them get scared and take off on their own.”

“One of the big advantages is that a wedding aisle gives them a straight line to fly toward,” he added.

Fay Stickland said the moment she saw Juno online, there was no doubt she wanted an owl to deliver ribbons for her and her fiancé’s hand-tying ceremony. – a ritual in which couples tie ribbons around wrists instead of exchanging rings.

She said Juno added an authentic, ethereal quality to her barn wedding last November with longtime partner Richard Stickland.

“It was like being part of a real fairy tale,” she said. “There were a few tense moments where my father-in-law [the best man] I had difficulty detaching the bag from the owl’s leg, but my husband quickly stepped in to help.

Stocks said his favorite part of every wedding was when he saw the guests’ reactions when Juno or Dusty arrived.

“It’s a nice moment,” he said.

As for his own plans, he says he and his girlfriend, Dee Hall, are engaged, but they have no plans to involve owls in their upcoming ceremony. After all, part of the charm is the element of surprise.

“I think it would be too much to expect,” he said.

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