Barn owls as biological control. Arab farmers in the Levant use nesting boxes to encourage the owls to move in. This means much less pesticide to control rodents.
Known for his work with birds and other feathery friends Prof. Yossi Leshem of Tel Aviv University is showing how nature can provide the best medicine — not only for pest problems, but also for diplomacy. For decades, Prof. Leshem has been pioneering environmentally-friendly techniques in pest control, using owls and birds to keep populations of predatory mice at bay in farmer’s fields in Israel.
Over the years, his projects have extended to Europe, North America and more locally in the Middle East. This year, farmers from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority were joined in the project by 50 Israeli-Arab farmers — showing that natural pesticide control is not just good for the environment, it’s good for peace as well. (Warning: ridiculously cute owlet picture below)
Today, through Webcams trained on owl nests, thousands of nature enthusiasts can track the progress of owl and predatory bird nesting boxes Prof. Leshem and his colleagues have set up in various locations, tools to reduce the use of dangerous pesticides. Owls, if given good homes and the right conditions, can control the damage caused by mice and other small mammals to farmer’s fields, he says.
Baby barn owls. Are these faces only a mother could love?
“We were pleasantly surprised by the birds at the Tirat Tzvi kibbutz. The barn owls that nested in the water tower successfully raised four nestlings,” he says. “We noted the abundance of rodents in the kibbutz fields and decided to raise another brood. They can be seen on the Internet site, where the nestlings can be seen with their first feathers.
“This has been an exceptionally successful year for the barn owls,” Prof. Leshem concludes.
Watch a video about the project below:
Almost 1,900 nesting boxes have been placed all over the country, about 600 of them in the Bet Shean Valley and the Jezreel Valley in Israel. Barn owls have occupied almost 80% of the nesting boxes, and many farmers are now enjoying the services of these “unique pest controllers,” he says.
On another note, owls have a mixed rap depending on the country. They are considered unclean in Islam, and a bad omen in the Middle East. Iran legends suggest they bring illness to children. So getting this project off the ground required some cultural sensitivity, Prof. Leshem said.