24

They obviously fly at different speeds and to different places, so why do they almost always arrive at breakfast? Several scenes show hundreds of them arriving at the same time, so it's unlikely to be a coincidence.

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    Although owls can see in daylight, travelling in daylight would make them conspicuous, not just because it's unusual to see an owl flying during the day, but because it's even more unusual to see an owl carrying a letter. This makes them susceptible to fowl (!) play. Arriving earlier than breakfast would just annoy the recipient or keep the owl hanging around unnecessarily. Even if the distance is great, and takes more than 24 hours, it still makes sense to arrange to arrive at breakfast because they will have to sleep during the daytime and fly at night. – chasly - supports Monica Jun 29 at 23:30
53

We know that the Daily Prophet delivery owls always arrive at breakfast time regardless of where they're delivering to, as seen early on in Philosopher's Stone when one arrives at the shack to deliver Hagrid's copy. This is in keeping with Muggle post, which (at least in the UK) is almost always delivered in the morning.

It's a reasonable assumption, then, that any other delivery owls are redirected to the Owlery upon arrival, and are only allowed to make their deliveries at breakfast time, once the Daily Prophet owls arrive. That way, all the deliveries are made in one go, instead of having owls coming and going constantly and potentially disrupting lessons.

There's also the added convenience that, during breakfast, everyone's guaranteed to be in the Great Hall, so the owls don't have to fly all over Hogwarts in search of whoever it is they're delivering to.

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    Also... it's just the British way. When else should the post come but in the morning? I don't think this needs any particular amount of thought put into it. It comes in the morning because that's the normal time for the post to arrive. Muggles get their post in the morning so Wizards get their post in the morning... just in a slightly more magical way. It's meant to make the wizarding world feel familiar... but different. This doesn't really work if you're not used to getting post in the morning, though, so I think this is mostly just British culture getting lost on non-UK audiences. – J... Jun 30 at 12:51
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    Really, it's not about the owls at all, and all of the answers are focusing on the wrong thing. It's based fairly squarely on the realities of middle 20th century postal delivery times in the U.K. and boarding school life. "first post" is somewhere between 07:00 and 09:00, "second post" around mid-day. So opening mail that arrived in the first post was a breakfast thing. The owls are just tarting it up a bit for a fictional magical setting. (-: – JdeBP Jun 30 at 13:13
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    @J... I've never seen the post arrive at breakfast in the UK. It arrives in the morning, like everywhere else I've lived in Europe, but never that early. – Diego Sánchez Jun 30 at 20:57
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    @DiegoSánchez Well, naturally, no, because the second post was scrapped in 2004. Harry Potter is set in the 1990s when there were still two post deliveries per day - one of them early morning. Perhaps I should have said it was the British way. Probably now even young Brits don't have direct cultural memory of the first post. – J... Jun 30 at 21:05
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    Also - if you'd just flapped your all the way to Scotland wouldn't you prefer to deliver your cargo when you could grab a bite to eat? – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jul 1 at 12:16
16

I don't believe there is any canon answer for this. But I assume that the owls have been deliberately scheduled to arrive at breakfast. And I think that that is a highly reasonable time. Consider: All of the students are gathered together in one central location, so the owl visits can be well-managed, plus the hall has a high ceiling reducing the crowding effect of so many owls arriving at once. The students have just woken up and so are relatively fresh-minded, and not yet distracted by coursework, so they can pay better attention to the contents of their letters, and have a whole day to absorb them. Arriving at lunch is less appropriate because students likely have less time between classes and are more absorbed in the learning process; dinner even less so since everyone is unwinding after the daily stress.

Also, where else could the owls deliver their letters to? It is certainly a bad idea to allow them to disrupt classes in progress; it would be chaos having owls try to find their delivery targets in the halls between classes, and the dormitories are inaccessible (how would an owl give the Fat Lady of Gryffindor tower the password??).

Of course, one could ask why Hogwarts doesn't provide proper mailboxes. I think this can be chalked up to 'the magic community doesn't do things the muggle way' and 'J.K. Rowling wants readers to find the wizarding world charming'.

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    Something something whimsy – Valorum Jun 29 at 13:53
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    @valorum You'd have to have mailboxes open at the top, perhaps with lids that magically sprang open as the owls approached and snapped shut as they left. It'd be harder to get odd size mail (or most mail) into that sort of mailbox. – Matt Gutting Jun 29 at 17:00
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    @MattGutting - And tiny wee mailman uniforms for the owls? That would be adorable. – Valorum Jun 29 at 18:16
  • Owls could fly in windows. I swear that happened; maybe just in the movies. – Azor Ahai -- he him Jun 29 at 21:55
  • @MattGutting: You mean like the firebolt? – user21820 Jun 30 at 10:07
2

Breakfast delivery was the usual custom (as others have said, probably due to the nocturnal nature of many owls, the need for owls not to be seen by Muggles in daylight en route, and the customs of Muggle post). But it is not an absolute rule. There are numerous exceptions, which can usually be attributed to urgency, secrecy, or unanticipated delay. In Order of the Phoenix, for example:

  • [urgency] when Harry Potter casts a Patronus in Little Whinging (the Muggle settlement where his aunt and uncle live), multiple letters arrive at 4 Privet Drive from Mafalda Hopkirk (two official Ministry of Magic communications, the first expelling Harry from Hogwarts for underage magic in a muggle area, the second rescinding the expulsion pending a disciplinary hearing), Arthur Weasley, Sirius Black, and Albus Dumbledore (howler addressed to Petunia Dursley) in the late-evening, much to the chagrin of Vernon Dursley (appropriately, the chapter is entitled 'A Peck of Owls');
  • [secrecy] Hermes delivers a letter from Percy Weasley to Ron Weasley in the late-evening in the Gryffindor common room -- in the letter, Percy states that he made a point of not having it delivered in the usual morning slot for reasons of privacy (he did not want Harry Potter to see the letter, because it was encouraging Ron to distance himself from Harry... of course, Ron almost immediately showed Harry the letter anyway); and
  • [unanticipated delay] Hedwig delivers a letter from Sirius Black to Harry Potter during a morning lesson (History of Magic) because the owl was attacked and probably intercepted (i.e.: Hedwig intended to deliver the letter at breakfast, but was delayed unexpectedly), probably at the behest of Umbridge.
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-2

Owls not disrupting sleep

The owls are naturally nocturnal beings and are probably forbidden from entering the living quarters during sleep time. The next opportune moment is the morning.
Even if they are expected to travel day and night with a normal distribution this will have around 9/24th of them arriving in the morning. Add this up with the subscription deliveries mentioned in F1Krazy's answer and you have a flood of owls at breakfast.

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    The main distinct point of your answer that seems like it could be a good reason is owls being forbidden to enter during sleep time. Do you have any evidence for this that you could edit in or are you saying this solely due to a lack of seeing owls there? – TheLethalCarrot Jun 30 at 8:18
  • Just going to add as a comment, letting owls enter the living quarters with semi-dressed children in a world with animagi is a creepy idea. – user3819867 Jun 30 at 8:19
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    @TheLethalCarrot I do not have evidence. Unfortunately J.K. Rowling is not good at elaborating details. The Owlery article referred by F1Krazy takes it for granted that they are released in the morning, I am speculating on why. In the boarding school I was living at there was a no disruptions policy from 9 PM till 6:30 AM. There was study from 7 AM till 7:30 AM, short breakfast, school until 1:30 PM and study again from 4 PM till 7 PM. For us the bracket for mail deliveries, phone calls, shopping etc. was 2 PM till 4 PM. – user3819867 Jun 30 at 8:37
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    There are 5 types of owl commonly found in the United Kingdom; of them: Tawny Owls and Long-Eared Owls are nocturnal, Little Owls are diurnal, Short-Eared Owls are both nocturnal and diurnal and Barn Owls are mostly crepuscular. The Snowy Owl (Hedwig) is diurnal. To say that Owls are nocturnal is an over-generalisation.... however, it is a commonly-held view that Owls are nocturnal. – MT0 Jun 30 at 9:40

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