Use of Barn Owls for Sustainable Rodent Control in Agricultural Areas

Richard N Raid

Abstract


In the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) of south Florida, rodent pests annually inflict millions of dollars in crop losses to vegetables, sugarcane, and rice. For decades, attempts were made to control rodent populations through the sole use of chemical rodenticides. However, rodenticides are costly, need frequent re-application, and pose risks to non-target species. With sustainable rodent control as the ultimate goal, University of Florida (UF) extension specialists have implemented a program encouraging agricultural producers to erect nesting boxes for barn owls (Tyto alba) on agricultural lands. Seeking to satisfy multiple objectives, the UF Barn Owl Project utilizes these prodigious rodent predators as a model system for instructing youth and the general public about symbiotic relationships that frequently exist between the environment and agriculture. Student and adult volunteers enthusiastically support the project by assisting in the construction of nesting boxes while learning about this highly beneficial raptor. Due to a paucity of suitable natural nesting sites, the nesting boxes are quickly colonized. Research indicates that barn owl density in the EAA is now among the highest in North America. A number of growers report that they no longer use chemical rodenticides. Perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of the UF Barn Owl Project are students and teachers. Owl pellets (regurgitated masses containing the undigested remains of rodents and other owl prey) are routinely collected, heat-sterilized, and used to provide hands-on lessons in predator–prey relationships. The personal involvement facilitated by the Barn Owl Project provides all participants with a sense of contribution and accomplishment.


Keywords


Tyto alba, biological control, wildlife, mammalian pests

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Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc.     ISSN 0886-7283