A TYRONE bird enthusiast is doing his bit to help preserve endangered owls, right from his own back yard.
Brian Hegarty from Sion Mills, a joiner by trade and a purveyer of all things feathered, has been for years been utilising his carpentry skills to craft cosy homes which offer the ideal covert for owls amid a dwindling natural habitat.
Distributed across the local area and beyond, Brian is particularly fighting to preserve a certain majestic, solitary species – the endangered barn owl.
Intrigued by Brian’s mission and keen to gain an insight into the world of endangered birds, I paid a visit to his humble workshop in Sion Mills.
“The design is simple and anyone could make an owl box if they set their mind to it,” Brian remarked, while showing me the ins and outs of his most recent box.
“The hole in the box mimics the hole in a tree, which provides a safe, sheltered and dark place for the owls to call home.”
Pointing to what can only be described as a ‘bird balcony’, a special feature of Brian’s boxes is a special platform designed to stop young owls falling from the box when they emerge from the nest.
“The platform allows the birds to become familiar with the outside world before they fly the nest,” Brian said.
“Within the North, barn owl numbers are very low and I want to give any young the best chance at survival.”
Indeed, with only between 40 to 50 barn owl breeding pairs in the North, Brian’s mission is necessary one. Overall, he names modern farming practices as detrimental to traditional owl habitats.
“Larger fields and fewer meadows have meant fewer and fewer habitats for owls,” Brian said. “Owls are forced to travel farther to find suitable nests.”
Recently, an endangered barn owl was found dead in Derry, and having been fitted with a special identification tag, was found to have travelled 220 miles from Co Kerry.
“Providing habitats for owls is clearly needed, and that is what keeps me motivated.” Brian said.
While Brian’s efforts have yet to house a coveted barn owl, instead attracting an array of other bird species, he is optimistic endangered owls will one day make use of his structures.
“Although I have had no success so far and 99 per-cent of the time have attracted Jackdaws, the reward will come at some stage and I will make a home for one.
“This points to the overall scarcity of the owls themselves – although the more people erect the boxes, the greater chance the species will be preserved.”
With this, Brian is calling on local volunteers to get involved with his fight.
“If anyone is interested in erected an owl box, they should get in touch. If everyone does their bit, owls and other endangered birds stand a greater chance of survival. Anyone interested shouldn’t hesitate to contact me.
“Overall, I love what I do and if I provide a home for even one barn owl, it will be worth it.”
It’s fair to say this is more than a bird-brained notion for Sion Mills’ very own endangered owl