May 31, 2013 4:53 pm

NS ‘Owl Man’ tracks, protects barred owl population

KINGS COUNTY, NS — Bernard Forsythe spends every day the same way — hiking deep in the woods in search of owls.

For the past four decades, the 71 year old has made it his mission to preserve the barred owl population.

The owls normally nest in hollow trees in old growth forests. As old growth has been disappearing, Forsythe has been putting up nesting boxes as substitutes.

“I started in the mid 70s and some of my boxes have been up 35 years and they’ve been used year after year after year by these owls.”

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With only a coat, gloves, pilers, rope and a bag – Forsythe bands each and every owl he can find. Sometimes that includes climbing more than 30 feet up a tree to get the baby owls. Not an easy task, especially when the watchful mother owl looks on.

“The adults have become very accustomed to me. They’ve lost their fear of me. Even though they don’t realize that I’m not going to hurt their babies. So all they’re doing is trying to protect their young. You could easily lose an eye or ear.”

Forsythe carefully takes each of the three week old babies from the box and lowers them to the ground. This is the first time they have been out of their nesting box.

Once safely on the ground, Forsythe carefully attaches a band to the leg of each owl, allowing him to track where the owls go and how long they live.

Babies will only be in the nesting box for another two weeks, so this is the perfect time to band them.

“There a lot easier to handle and they’re easier to catch. Once they’re out of the nest they won’t let you walk up to them.” Forsythe says, laughing.

Once both are banded, the owls are returned back to their nesting box.

“The adults will establish a territory and hold it for life. The young are dependent on the adults until the fall. In the fall the adults chase the young out of the territory and they have to find their own home.”

As many as 70 percent of birds of prey will die within their first year. Most owl fatalities happen when they can’t find enough food.

“They prey on all the small mammals. Shrews, they eat a lot of shrews, they do a lot of fishing.”

If owls can make it past their first birthday, they have an expected lifespan of more than 20 years.

But Forsythe doesn’t always have to trek into the woods to find his beloved owls. He actually has a family of them living in his backyard, and feeds them supper every night.

Forsythe has banded more than 600 owls since he started and has no plans of stopping any time soon.

© Shaw Media, 2013

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