Whoo's a Bird's Best Friend? Bruce Berry, Owl Man of Britain
updated 09/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 09/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Berry, 42, is trying to give the birds a hand. Operating on a 12½-acre former pig farm in the ironically named town of Crow, he breeds barn owls for release into the wild. Twenty of the birds were set free last year; Berry hopes to release 100 this year. Impressed by his efforts, the government recently awarded him a grant, giving added legitimacy to the save-the-barn-owl cause.
Born on the Isle of Wight, Berry cannot remember a time when he wasn't interested in birds. Sidetracked for 11 years while he served as a pub keeper in Middlesex, "right under the flight path for Heathrow airport," he made the jump from ale to aviaries in 1987. Berry bought a pair of barn owls and began Back to the Wild, a nonprofit organization devoted to putting the birds back into the blue yonder. "I reckon we just exchanged one flight path for another," says Marion, 41, Berry's wife of 22 years, who's in charge of preparing the barn owls' diet—strips of dead, day-old baby chickens.
Some may quail at such a meal. Others quail at Berry's entire scheme. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Britain's most prestigious ornithological group, has suggested that his owls are being released prematurely. "The reasons for their decline might still exist," says species protection officer Graham Elliot. "Mr. Berry may be committing his birds to a very bleak future."
Berry disagrees. He believes that fewer toxic chemicals are being used on crops and that a reduction in the size of dairy herds has created tracts of fallow land that can support his birds. "I take as many precautions as I can to ensure that the birds survive," says Berry, who personally surveys each release site. "If you do that, you can't do any more. Nat?Oe will take over."