Owls in Israel: Key to Pesticide Free Farming

May 21, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Israel is on a mission to reduce the use of toxic chemical pesticides in its agricultural industry and it just may have found a natural, organic way to rid farmers’ fields of crop damaging rodents.

It turns out that rodents are the main diet of owls and kestrels and they can’t get enough of the pesky rodents loathed by farmers. The Israeli government is encouraging farmers to install nest boxes to make use of the rodent snacking birds of prey, to replace the use of pesticides.

Rodents are a huge menace to agriculture. They destroy about 35% of crops throughout the world. However, the use of pesticides poisons the environment, while providing only a temporary solution to the problem. Simple barn owls may be all farmers need to remove rodents from their fields.

Named the Global Owl Project, scientists from Tel Aviv University and the government are teaming up to provide farmers with nest boxes for owls and kestrels to encourage farmers to stop spraying their crops with massive amounts of toxic “rodenticides.” The project may also help save the birds from extinction.

BirdLife International notes that hundreds of majestic birds of prey have been killed in Israel from eating rodents containing poisonous “rodenticides” sprayed by farmers on their fields in massive amounts from planes.

The idea seems to be catching on with Israeli farmers, as nesting boxes can be spotted on many farms these days. Nest boxes to encourage nesting of both owls and kestrels, provide 24-hour pest control coverage. The owls take the night shift, swooping low over the fields at nightfall looking for a rodent meal. The kestrels on the other hand, hunt during the day.

As the Global Owl Project has expanded and received government funding, it has also served to unite Israel with scientists from the neighboring Middle Eastern countries of Jordan and Palestine.

Perhaps a few owls and kestrels can restore peace in the Middle East. Stranger things have happened. Motti Charter, a researcher from Tel Aviv University and team leader of the Global Owl Project in Israel, notes that the birds aren’t aware of geographical boundaries. They make a home wherever there is food and a secure spot to nest.

There are now, about 1,000 barn owl nest boxes dotting farmers’ fields throughout Israel, with more to come.

The World Owl Trust has even installed a webcam in one of the nesting boxes, offering a peek into the lives and nesting habits of owls.



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