Barn owls as biological pest control agents of rodents in agriculture


 
One of the most commendable agricultural projects was to set up barn owl and kestrel nesting boxes as part of a national effort to introduce a natural biological pest control method of rodents in fields and orchards. Farms that provided a safe niche for these invaluable birds of prey have drastically reduced or even eliminated the pesticides they use, benefitting not only migratory birds but also helping to protect the quality of the air, water and food crops which consumers trust to be healthy products.

It has been well documented that chemical agents used to kill targeted species, such as herbicides, pesticides and rodenticides, inevitably hurt and often kill other species through toxic exposure that becomes more potent as it accumulates in the tissues of organisms that are higher up on the food chain. The best option is to minimize the use of chemical control of pests, yet there must be alternative solutions to controlling and eradicating species that are highly destructive to agriculture. Luckily, we do have a harmless solution to the problem, the farmers’ best friends: the barn owl and the common kestrel, birds of prey that significantly reduce rodent populations in agricultural areas. Barn owls are active at night (nocturnal), and a pair of them and their nestlings consume between two to six thousand rodents annually. In particularly active years, they can breed more than once and can rear up to eleven nestlings at a time. Common Kestrels are small falcons that take over during the day (diurnal), by hunting rodents when the barn owls are asleep.

 
 
 
Nest boxes located in Beit Shean Valley located not far from Jordan (villages located on the mountains).

In Israel, an innovative system of controlling destructive rodents has been developed by encouraging barn owls and common kestrels to nest in the agricultural fields where the pests typically consume enormous amounts of valuable crop species. This is done by simply installing and monitoring nesting boxes in ideal locations and at frequent intervals in the fields so as to encourage the raptors to reside, breed and raise families in the fields. When this happens, they naturally diminish the rodent populations by hunting them on a very large scale. Up until now, most nest boxes have been purchased by farmers themselves. Nest boxes are very expensive for farmers to purchase, yet they do so at the cost of approximately $250 each. At this time, there have been about three thousand bird boxes erected in fields throughout Israel, from the north to the south and the east to the west, and the vast majority of them have been financed by the farmers themselves, which is a huge expense.

In recent decades, there has been a general trend towards phasing out agriculture and replacing it with other kinds of enterprise, which is a sad end to the Zionist dream of cultivating the land of “milk and honey.” In 2008, a national project was set up by the Tel Aviv University, University of Haifa, the Society for the Protection of Nature, Hoopoe Foundation, the Israel Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development, Israel Ministry of Regional Cooperation
, and the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection. The project is geared towards assisting and advising farmers and monitoring the nest boxes, but, to a much lesser extent, covering expenses for materials (nest boxes, etc). The idea behind Project Bird Box Israel is not to pay 100% of the funds required for the nest boxes, but rather to participate in the cost of providing them to farmers.

When you donate to Project Bird Box Israel, you are not only providing a home for the barn owls and common kestrels, but you are also contributing vital support to the livelihoods of local farmers. In this modern age of hi-tech and many challenges such as drought, climate change, the privatization of kibbutzim and the general lack of budgeting, many people are in dire need of economic aid to continue working in agriculture. So you not only adopt generations of avian inhabitants for which you provide a safe and ideal home, but you also give crucial aid to an Israeli farmer, by providing a nest-box for his fields. You have the option of adopting a box that has already been in use or donating towards the purchase of materials and building of a brand new one. Let there be no doubt in your mind, that the farmer who receives your help will be very appreciative and will say a warm “Toda Raba!”(“Thank you!” in Hebrew) of gratitude for your generosity.

Not only will you be helping the bird tenants of your box and the farmers, but also the hordes of migrating birds which pass over the Syrian-African rift, one of the most heavily-traveled flyways in the world. It is estimated that as many as 500 million birds fly across Israel each spring and fall on their way to and from Africa, Europe and Asia. Many of these migrating birds stop in Israel to rest and recharge their batteries before continuing on their long route between continents. They arrive here exhausted and very hungry, and they are in need of large amounts of food to replenish their lost reserves. Many of these species are vulnerable to primary (direct ingestion) and secondary (indirect exposure) poisoning from pesticides, and conservationists are working hard to protect them from toxic substances that may cause them harm and even death.
Barn owls can raise up to 11 nestlings per brood and can even breed more than once yearly!

 
All donations to Project Bird Box Israel are made to the University of Haifa in Israel.

Project Bird Box Israel

פרויקט תיבות קינון ישראלי
For Questions: Dr. Motti Charter (
chartermotti@gmail.com)
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