Owls — a kind of naturally occurring rodenticide — help farmers

The owl’s productivity as nature’s rodenticide is something that those in agriculture and the agricultural sectors have long been familiar with. Today, in celebration of International Owl Awareness Day, we’re sharing some ways owls have helped farmers.

In the midst of COVID, a local fair board had discussed hiring someone to come and remove pigeons from the livestock barn areas. The flying rodents left equipment, pens and floors covered in feathers, bird dust and droppings – and unfortunately had to go. After pricing out a specialist, board members decided it would be too expensive to hire someone, so the 4-H and FFA youth did exactly what they do every year: They set about cleaning out the barn before the time was right.

To everyone’s surprise, when they arrived, they found that instead of excessive bird droppings, all that was left of the once well-established pigeon population was all that was left of the pigeon population. Also floating down the aisles of the barn was a pair of owls! The youth members got an excellent wildlife lesson and enjoyed the spoils of the owl’s work and learned about how other producers use owls in their operations.

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In addition to helping 4-H and FFA members clean out fair barns, barn owls are also a great, natural tool for producers looking to reduce the need for chemical rodent control on their farm. Pest control is a fundamental component to growing healthy and productive crops, and owls can be just the tool for the job. A family of five to six owls can eat over 3,000 pests during a single growing season.

Feral owls can be encouraged to roost on and near farms with roosting and nesting sites available.

Image courtesy of Florida Crystals

Crystals from Florida is a group that helps farmers encourage and establish owl populations. The company’s research and development department includes 30 scientists, whose goal is to search for more sustainable, greener farming techniques. One such example is the company’s owl program, developed by University of Florida.

Fifteen years ago, the company began working with Dr. Richard Reid of the University of Florida. In 2017, 20 owl boxes were built on organic farms to attract the birds. Several family-owned farms are now implementing these feathered farm aids in their Florida operations with the help of the company.

Currently, more than 1,250 owls live in custom-built owl boxes on farms in the network, hunting pests at night. Now, Florida Crystals is doubling their owl net, making them the largest owl net in the world.

The presence of the owl negates the farmer’s ability to use rodenticides, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to the owl’s help, they don’t need them. Farmers in the network are primarily located in Palm Beach County or south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades. Owls help control pests in sugarcane, rice and vegetable crops.

Image courtesy of Florida Crystals

Growers are also working to increase biodiversity by incorporating nature into farming practices. Cover crops are planted to build nutrients in the soil. Rice is often grown due to the 80 day growth requirement under water. Water-filled fields eliminate weeds and protect the soil from oxidation.

Florida Crystals conducts a biannual owl census, counting owls in October and March. These dates are specifically chosen because of owl migration patterns. They found that 50 to 60 percent of boxes filled in September are filled at a rate of 97 percent in March. Box conditions and food supplies are also regularly monitored.

Image courtesy of Florida Crystals

So on International Owl Awareness Day, be sure to keep an eye out for any owls you may have roaming your farmland this year.

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