By Karla Milosevich & Rebecca North
Rodents, such as gophers and voles, eat the roots of the fruit trees which can damage or kill the trees, so rodent control is a big issue for farmers. Owls are predators that can control rodent populations in orchards naturally without the use of pesticides and chemicals. So how do farmers sign up owls for the job? Install owl boxes. As part of The FruitGuys Farm Steward program, we donated owl boxes to an east coast and west coast farm to encourage owl residency. Here is a video we made of the installation of an owl box at E & M Farm in Vernalis California, an organic white peach and white nectarine farm, with farmer Ed Magee and his family. The owl boxes were made by the woodworking department of a local school.
As of June, there are four owl boxes installed on E & M farm and we are happy to report that all have been inhabited by barn owls.
According to Dan Mummert, a Southeast Wildlife Diversity Biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, who we worked with during our installation of an owl box on Kauffman’s Fruit Farm in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, barn owls typically pair up, one pair per house, or barn, then they mate and raise their baby owls. Once the baby owls are old enough, they fly off and find a new home, mate up, and the cycle continues. Ed doesn’t think that any of the couples in his boxes have reproduced just yet at E & M Farm. They were probably youngsters themselves when they moved in.
Farmer Ed Magee says that putting the owl boxes up has certainly increased the diversity of the farm’s eco-system. He can hear the owls flying around, and the owls are extremely effective at pest control, eating gophers and voles. Ed, his wife Melissa, and their kids check the owl pellets to see what the owls have been eating. The owls are nocturnal, so it is hard to take photos of them but Ed says theyy can hear the owls screeching and making clicking noises to communicate with each other. Occasionally, they will peek out of the owl box window when Ed drives by in the tractor, but they are mostly reclusive.
We asked Ed how hawks that also live in the area interact with the owls. Ed says that since the owls are nocturnal, there doesn’t appear to be any territorial issues between the two birds. The boxes are designed for barn owls only, there is a board inside after the entry window that helps to protect them and their baby owls from predators. Hawks, as well as great horned owls, will hunt barn owls. The Magees also have six cats on the farm, and the owls don’t seem to bother the cats either.
On the west coast, we’re looking forward to enjoying E & M Farm organic peaches and nectarines in a few more weeks. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this video of Ed’s ingenious approach to mounting the owl boxes on tall poles using man power and leverage.