Barn Owls Used For Sustainable Pest Control: Charter Group of Wildlife Ecology
A small but devoted team in Israel is researching ways humans and owls can coexist, eliminating the need for pesticides and rat poison in agriculture. The Charter Group of Wildlife Ecology in Haifa, Israel, has worked diligently for the past 10 years to create an agricultural environment that supports barn owls as they support us.
There are several factors that make barn owls an ideal partner in pest control. The bird’s natural diet consists primarily of rodents and insects, two types of creatures that provide a challenge to farmers. While rodents eat large portions of produce and make them nonviable for sale, insects are responsible for spreading diseases which can be devastating to crops. Farmers generally turn to pesticides and rat poisons to keep their produce healthy, which in turn pass into the ecosystem when local predators eat poisoned rats and insects. In addition, pest control chemicals seep into the soil and water supply, affecting animals outside the intended range. This cycle makes farmland dangerous and sometimes uninhabitable for the natural predators that can help keep pests at bay.
To solve this dilemma, the Charter Group of Wildlife Ecology has banded together to put pest control back in owls’ talons. The goal sounds simple on paper: to develop an environment that encourages wild owls to live in agricultural areas, diminishing the local rat and insect population without resorting to poisons. The difficulty lies in retaining a sufficient owl population to handle pests naturally.
The project encompasses these factors:
- How reproductive success is affected by climate, habitat disturbances, parent morphology, rodenticide use, nest location, nest size and type, and other factors
- How a relatively dense owl population can be retained in a small area, working with natural territorial and reproductive behaviors
- How traits are passed down between generations of barn owls
A family of barn owls that the charter group observed from hatchlings to adults
While the team’s research implements modern technology such as tracking devices and drones, they rely heavily on field research without the bells and whistles: hiking to different barn owls’ nests and observing owl behavior, pellet contents, tracks, and everything else of note. The team’s findings are already being put to use by ecologists and farmers around the world, searching for a healthy, sustainable alternative to rat poisons and pesticides.
While cultivating progress in ecosystem management and cohabitation with humans, The Charter Group of Wildlife Ecology also turns its attention to the next generation, developing and facilitating STEM projects for kindergarten and beyond. By stirring up a thirst for knowledge in today’s youth, the charter group paves a path for their research to continue, developing new ecological methods in the decades to come.
You can get involved by encouraging STEM projects in your own neighborhood. Browse our educational catalogue for science projects, teacher tools, at-home science kits, and more.