Rodents for a Midnight Snack
Barn owls in the service of biological warfare
Rodents are considered to be among the most significant pests in agricultural lands. So how do we get rid of them without flooding the crops, that end up on our plate, with chemical control agents? Meet the barn owl – a nocturnal bird of prey with impressive hunting abilities that feeds mainly on rodents such as rats, mice and voles. Barn owls have proven to be an efficient and economically feasible means of preventing most of the rodent damage, both to crops and to irrigation pipes. When we consider that a pair of barn owls hunts 2000 rodents a year (!), it’s no wonder that many farmers regard the barn owl as an efficient biological control agent.
So that the barn owls will specifically eat the rodents that cause damage in the fields and not in other places, they must be attracted to agricultural lands; this is done by building nesting boxes suitable for barn owls and installing them in a field or plantation at a height of 2.5 meters above the ground.
The use of barn owls for biological control in agriculture in Israel began in the 1980s in the Beit She’an Valley and expanded to other parts of the country. Today about 3000 barn-owl nesting boxes have been installed throughout the country. Nevertheless, in the Hof Hacarmel region and Hanadiv Valley the number of nesting boxes installed by farmers is actually very low.
During the last year, farmers, together with the Partnership for Regional Sustainability, began a project to install nesting boxes in agricultural lands. As part of this project more than 20 new nesting boxes were installed; these will decrease the amount of spraying in the fields and reduce damage to agriculture. This regional project also has educational value – students from Yemin Orde Youth Village volunteered to build high quality nesting boxes from solid wood, instructed by Omer Marzel. The boxes are offered to the farmers for a nominal price; installation is the responsibility of the farmers. The farmers are guided by the Partnership staff; a professional survey is conducted for each farmer to identify suitable locations for installing the nesting boxes. So far nesting boxes have been installed at Nir Etzion, Bat Shlomo, Binyamina, Givat Ada, Zikhron Ya’akov and other communities in the Hof Hacarmel region. The project is led by the agricultural committees of Hof Hacarmel, and Binyamina – Givat Ada.
During the next few years the staff of Ramat Hanadiv and members of the National Barn Owl Initiative will monitor breeding success in order to confirm that they hunt mainly rodents damaging agriculture and not rare wild animals. As part of the initiative, nesting boxes were installed around Ramat Hanadiv during the last nesting season (February – June 2018). Examination of barn owl pellets (undigested parts of the birds’ food) showed that their main food throughout the gardens is rats. This is an encouraging result for the future.