Alex Godbe started The Hungry Owl Project in 2002 to raise awareness of the danger that rodent poison poses to owls. Alex had been an intern for Wildcare, a Bay Area wildlife rehabilitation and education center, and was struck by the number of sick raptors and other hunting birds that ended up in the facility because they had been exposed to a variety of poisons.
The Hungry Owl Project’s mission is to “reduce the need for harmful pesticides & rodenticides by encouraging natural predators, through conservation of habitat, erecting nest boxes when appropriate, through research & education, and by providing a resource of help and information on alternative methods of sustainable pest management.” The San Anselmo, CA-based nonprofit organization is a program of Wildcare and provides owl boxes and education regarding natural owl-based rodent control. I spoke with Alex last week to deepen our understanding of the magnificent Barn Owls we are getting to know through The FruitGuys GoodWorks owl box projects in California and Pennsylvania.
Alex said that providing nesting habitat, like the owl boxes we installed at E&M Farm and Kauffman’s Farm, can attract owls to the area and contribute to a decrease in rodents, like meadow voles and gophers, that could damage crops.
Barn Owls are non-territorial, so an area’s owl population is limited only by how many rodents are in the area, and by how much nesting habitat - an owl box, a cavity in a tree or access to shelter in a building - is available. Alex suggests that farmers or vintners who want to attract owls to help control rodent populations can start by putting up 6 owl boxes on 50 acres of land. If the rodent population is large enough to support them, the owls will move in and get to work immediately.
And when I say get to work”¦ I mean get to work! Barn Owls are incredibly effective hunters with a very high metabolism and can consume 1 to 6 rodents per night or 1 large gopher. “Forty-eight Barn Owls eat the equivalent of 1.3 tons of gophers per year,” Alex told me. Now, that’s some serious hunting! Alex cautioned that owls are not the sole solution to problematic pests, and that to rid an area of rodents, especially in an urban setting, trapping and exclusion tactics (repairing holes and cracks that provide rodents access to a house or barn) are necessary. Rodent poisons should never be used when employing owls as a means of rodent control; they can sicken or kill the owls.
To learn more about owls Alex suggests a visit to www.owlpages.com. Stay tuned for more updates and photos from our owl box cams.
- Bridget Meigs