HARRY Potter fans are being told that buying owls as Christmas presents is a bad idea for birds and children alike.
Falconry experts from Cheshire Waterlife have warned parents against giving in to youngsters who want to emulate the boy wizard hero who has a pet owl named Hedwig.
And they are stressing there is a more desirable alternative - at Chester Zoo it is possible to 'adopt' an owl, with the 'adopter's' name appearing on the front of the aviary.
At a falconry display at Chester's Grosvenor Shopping Centre, those manning the wildlife exhibition were inundated with requests from parents determined to buy an owl as a Christmas gift for their children.
Experts from Cheshire Waterlife, the region's premier falconry centre displaying falcons and owls from their stand in the shopping centre, were repeatedly asked if they sold owls like Hedwig, the snowy owl who features prominently in the hit movie based on the best-selling books by JK Rowling.
Proprietor Stephen Birchall said: 'We made it quite clear that although we kept owls as part of our stock at our Blakemere Shopping Centre HQ at Sandiway, near Northwich, we would never sell an owl to a private individual.
'Owls are very difficult to look after and to handle. Specialist treatment and experience are required to look after these animals and we have no intention of selling them to the general public.
'Sadly some parents seem determined to buy an owl for their children for Christmas, but if they succeed they could well live to regret it.'
Mr Birchall who, with his wife Fay has been raising birds of prey for years, said the sharp beak and talons of an owl could cause injury if the bird is not handled properly.
Although there is nothing illegal in owning an owl and those in captivity are thought to outnumber the UK's 4,000 strong wild population, experts agree they do not make ideal pets.
But with barn owls available at about £40 and snowy owls selling for up to £200, there is little doubt the Harry Potter movie will increase sales.
Mr Birchall said he is already getting record numbers of visitors to his aviary at Blakemere where a number of owls are on display. He has even produced a special Christmas gift voucher for children, giving them the opportunity to handle and fly owls under the supervision of experts.
Meanwhile youngsters hankering after an owl for Christmas can do the next best thing to owning one and adopt instead.
A year's adoption of an owl at Chester Zoo costs £30, which includes a handsome certificate, the adopter's name on the appropriate aviary, two complimentary tickets to the zoo, copies of the quarterly magazine Chester Zoo Life and invitations to the zoo's annual Adopter Days.
For details, send an SAE for an adoption application leaflet to Animal Adoptions, Chester Zoo, Chester CH2 1LH, or download one from www.chesterzoo.org
Singers rewarded with private film screening
* YOUNG singers at Chester Cathedral are to get their own showing of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone.
Their commitment, usually about 10-15 hours a week and more at festival times such as Christmas, means most have been unable to see the film.
To give the Cathedral boys an idea of what is involved in caring for a real-life bird of prey, Cheshire Waterlife briefly interrupted a practice to show them Mistral the great grey owl.