BABY owls at a Scottish centre, which houses two feathered stars of the Harry Potter films, are helping youngsters with autism form relationships.
The four snowy owls are just over three weeks old but have already started training to help support children with conditions such as autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The Owl and the Pussycat Centre, near Maud, Buchan, was set up four years ago and is home to Hedwig and Errol, made famous in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone film.
The famous birds still make trips to care homes and schools as an introduction to owl therapy but snowy owl Hedwig is due to retire from outings next year at the age of 15.
Centre owner Ruth Hickling said the owl therapy had could have profound effect on children with physical and learning difficulties.
She said: “We go to care homes and schools and have young people with all sorts of special needs coming into the centre.
“The owl therapy calms of a lot of the children down that have ADHD and autism.
“Children with autism in particular have difficulty forming relationships.
“It’s interesting because the birds are less demanding than the dogs or cats. They don’t look for attention, they just sit on the children’s hands and then the children start to stroke them and engage with them.
“Quite often, that’s the first time that a young person with autism has engaged with anything and it just starts the process of them being able to engage with other living things.
“Eventually it helps them with their relationships with humans.
“The children create really strong bonds with the birds and in some cases, the mums and dads have never seen them respond that way before. It can be a real tear-jerking moment.”
Ruth said some of the families involved in the owl therapy programme told her it had helped enormously with building relationships with their own children.
The new arrivals, who were born at the centre, are undergoing an intensive training programme before they start working with children.
Ruth added: “We’re hand rearing them so we can use them in our work next year. They need to be so we know they’ll be fine with people touching them.”
A group of youngsters are visiting the centre today to name the baby owls.
Former social worker Ruth set up the sanctuary with £90,000 she was awarded following a high-profile split with Aberdeen City Council.
The pay-out came after she won her claim for unfair dismissal at a tribunal.
The centre started out with 14 birds and now there are more than 40 in residence and it has recently been awarded charitable status.