Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Spooky Owl Provides Natural Rodent Control For Farmers

Date:
October 29, 1999
Source:
University Of Florida, Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences
Summary:
For the spooks that haunt the Everglades Agricultural Area, Halloween happens every night as they swoop through the skies above the sprawling sugar cane fields in search of treats. But these winged apparitions don't wear costumes and aren't begging for candy. They're ghost owls, also known as barn owls and death owls, and they are a welcome, though eerie, sight to sugar cane farmers.

BELLE GLADE, FL --- For the spooks that haunt the Everglades Agricultural Area, Halloween happens every night as they swoop through the skies above the sprawling sugar cane fields in search of treats.

But these winged apparitions don't wear costumes and aren't begging for candy. They're ghost owls, also known as barn owls and death owls, and they are a welcome, though eerie, sight to sugar cane farmers, said University of Florida researcher Richard Raid.

The birds perform a valuable service, with a nesting pair of barn owls capable of catching and eating almost 3,000 rodents over the course of a year, said Raid and research assistant Cosandra Hochreiter, of UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Rodents can cause up to $30 million in damage per year to the area's 750,000 acres of sugar cane, rice and vegetables.

Superstitions about the birds, however, are plentiful.

"Many people in the islands and Central and South America believe that it is bad luck to see a barn owl, particularly during the day," said Raid, who is based at UF's Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade. "Rumor has it that to see one forewarns the death of a friend or a relative in the very near future."

To others, they are known as ghost owls because of their white feathers and ethereal ability to fly without making a sound, despite a wingspan of 4 or 5 feet. Barn owls also hiss or screech hauntingly, instead of hooting like the wise old owls in storybooks.

"Another thing that gives them an eerie reputation is that they live in abandoned, haunted-looking barns and old buildings," said Robert Stubblefield, the farm manager for the research center, which is the hub of UF's barn owl research.

Despite their scary reputation, the owls are close to becoming endangered in some areas and could use some human help, Hochreiter said. Population levels in the Everglades Agricultural Area are far below normal because the abandoned buildings the owls love are disappearing, so people need to provide artificial habitats for nesting and roosting, she said.

Hochreiter and Raid are testing models of barn owl boxes mounted on posts to see how receptive the birds are to such homes. Sugar cane grower Wayne Boynton, who has been using various models for several years, said barn owls have moved into all the boxes he has put up on his 3,000-acre farm.

Boynton's pioneering spirit in installing the boxes has earned him the nickname "Godfather of Barn Owls." But Boynton said he's happy to provide testimonials for the birds' pest control prowess and the homemade nesting boxes.

"People ask me what they need to do to attract the owls to the boxes, and the answer is nothing," Boynton said. "It's like 'Field of Dreams;' if you build it, they will come. It's that simple.

"In areas where you have trees and abandoned barns and old houses, it's no problem for the owls to find a place to nest, but this is a treeless area with no natural forest. If we want them here, we've got to provide nesting boxes," Boynton said.

The farmers need the owls as much as the owls need the farmers. Traditionally, growers have relied on rodenticides, but the chemicals are short-lived and have to be reapplied frequently. Rats and mice also can become bait-shy, rendering the chemicals less effective.

By contrast, barn owls are the perfect rodent control. Raid calls them "nature's mousetraps," and Hochreiter says they are efficient and deadly.

"If they spot it, and they want it, it's over," Hochreiter said. "The rats and mice can't hear them coming."

Hochreiter said researchers can tell what and how much the owls are eating when they examine nesting sites. Barn owls swallow their prey whole, digesting the flesh and regurgitating the bones and fur in the form of a pellet. The owls are not good housekeepers so their nest sites are literally rodent graveyards, littered with the bones and hair of their victims.

The owls have made Boynton a believer, although they may seem less than grateful for his efforts on their behalf.

"When I come out to the farm at night, they swoop down and hiss at me," he said. "But that's OK. Rats do a lot of damage to sugar cane, and I see far fewer rats on the farm when we have a high population of barn owls. They're a great alternative to rat baits and poisons.

"You can't have too many barn owls," Boynton said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Florida, Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Florida, Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences. "Spooky Owl Provides Natural Rodent Control For Farmers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 October 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991029070205.htm>.
University Of Florida, Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences. (1999, October 29). Spooky Owl Provides Natural Rodent Control For Farmers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991029070205.htm
University Of Florida, Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences. "Spooky Owl Provides Natural Rodent Control For Farmers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991029070205.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
Captive Dolphin Gives Birth

Captive Dolphin Gives Birth

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 20, 2014) SeaWorld in San Diego welcomes a new bottlenose dolphin, the second calf for 13-year-old female, Sadie. Rough Cut. (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Another Study Suggests Viagra Is Good For The Heart

Another Study Suggests Viagra Is Good For The Heart

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) An ingredient in erectile-dysfunction medications such as Viagra could improve heart function. Perhaps not surprising, given Viagra's history. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins