Hedwig, the owl who lived: Rescued Fort McMurray bird attracts Harry Potter fame

When Sithara Fernando stared into the bright yellow eyes of an injured snowy owl, flapping furiously in the dirt, she immediately thought of Hedwig, Harry Potter's magical, mail-delivering companion.

An injured owl made it safely to Edmonton thanks to a little muggle magic

Sithara Fernando, a wildlife biologist with Suncor, poses with Hedwig. She helped rescue the injured snowy owl from a northern Alberta oilsands site. (Sithara Fernando)

When Sithara Fernando stared into the bright yellow eyes of an injured snowy owl flapping furiously in the dirt, she immediately thought of Hedwig, Harry Potter's magical, mail-delivering companion.

Fernando, a wildlife biologist with Suncor, was called out to the edge of the company's mining operations north of Fort McMurray early one October morning to rescue the bird.

The owl couldn't fly and appeared to be suffering from a broken wing.

A call to Fish and Wildlife confirmed the bird would have the best chance of survival if Fernando drove it to the Alberta Society for Injured Birds of Prey's rehabilitation centre near Edmonton, more than 500 kilometres away. 

A soundtrack for adventure 

Fernando, a diehard Harry Potter fan, couldn't stop herself from "nerding out" on the five hour trip there.

Fernando thought it would be magic to drive through the blowing snow all while listening to stories about the Hogwarts adventures of wizards Harry, Hermione and Ron.

Harry Potter and his trusted companion, Hedwig (Warner Bros.)

With her own Hedwig bundled up in the back seat, she hit play on an audio book of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone​. She listened especially carefully to the chapter where Harry travels to Diagon Alley and receives Hedwig as a birthday gift.

For a few hours, Fernando didn't feel anything like a muggle. 

"Me and a few of the biologists, before I left, had a conversation about what kind of music owls like, because the owl had a four and half or five hour drive," Fernando said.

"I decided to play her the audiobook of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which is the first Harry Potter book where Harry gets Hedwig, which is also a snowy owl.

"As a giant nerd, I opted for that to be the soundtrack to my owl adventure, which was awesome."

The drive was nerve-wracking, she said. It was unclear if the bird had suffered any internal injuries during her fall and Fernando feared the animal might not even survive the trip.

"When she was quiet I would get nervous, and it was possible that once we arrived at the rehab centre we couldn't have saved her, " Fernando said.

When she finally arrived in Edmonton and met with rescue volunteers, she felt a huge rush of relief.

"We opened up the box and had a look inside and she looked up at me with these big bright eyes and it was just really awesome," she said.

"The riskiest part was getting her there and I was just really glad that she made the trip okay."

J.K. Rowling takes notice

The bird and her unusual trip down Highway 63 has now caught the attention of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.  

Fernando's tweet about her new feathered friend went viral after getting some online love from Rowling herself.

"I got a retweet from J.K. Rowling, which was almost like a dream come true," Fernando said. 

"It's really incredible to see how many people really care about wildlife and really care about what's going on in the Wood Buffalo region." In the series, Hedwig is killed in the Battle of the Seven Potters after being struck down by a killing curse while perched atop Hagrid's flying motorcycle. Fernando's Hedwig won't see a similarly tragic end — the owl is recovering well with a cast on her broken wing.

If the bird can't fully heal from her injury, she will become a permanent resident at the rehab facility.

"She would be one of the owls that visits kids in school so they can learn about different wildlife," Fernando said. "She is a very social owl and a very expressive owl so she would be good at that.

"She's just a beautiful, beautiful animal."


Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

With files from Travis McEwan