Aww!
Vineyards in California are ditching chemicals for nesting owls for pest control
An absolutely brilliant idea!
Eduardo Gaskell
11.11.21

It’s safe to say that most adults love wine. But how often do we think of how its produced?

Winemakers spend most of their time monitoring the soil, heat, rain, and the sunlight. That bottle starts in the vineyard where pests like gophers and mice can ruin all that hardwork.

Napa Valley vintners eradicate pests using rodenticides but graduate students from Humboldt State University in California are looking at owls as a safer alternative.

Professor Matt Johnson of the university’s Department of Wildlife is in charge of the experiment. What he and his researchers did is put around 300 owl nest boxes throughout Napa Valley vineyards.

It provided researchers opportunities to document the birds’ impact on deterring and removing pests.

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The students surveyed 75 wineries in the valley, finding that four-fifths now use the owl nest boxes. There is a noticeable change in the presence of rodents.

Owls spend one-third of their four month nesting season hunting in the fields. They can eat up to a thousand rodents during those months. Do the math and that’s around 3,400 in a year.

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What they found was that the barn owls reduced the gopher population. The owls didn’t care much about the mice.

The aim is to also decrease the use of rodenticide in Napa Valley vineyards. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has imposed stricter limits on rodenticides as of January 2021.

While the pesticides do kill rodents, other birds and animals that prey on these rodents can also die from the same chemicals.

Most vintners have now stopped using rodenticides.

“Whether the use of barn owl boxes caused that reduction in rodenticides is, of course, not proven,” Johnson told Bay Nature. “Nonetheless, this result is encouraging.”

The team found that Barn owls prefer facing away from the sun with their boxes nine feet off the ground. The boxes are adjacent to grassy fields and kept far from forested acres.

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Farmers over the centuries have used owls to hunt rodents. Modern chemicals and technology took over, outweighing natural methods in recent decades.

The good news is that other countries are following suit, including Kenya, Malaysia, and Israel. Farmers are going back to owls as a means of ridding their farms from pests.

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Ornithologist John C. Robinson told Bay Nature:

“You can literally put a barn owl nest box in the exact location where you think you have a problem with the small mammals, and voilà! The owls will start using that area.”

Napa Valley grape growers are putting up nest boxes while minimizing their use of water in efforts to promote sustainable farmlands. Planting perennial grasses between the rows of grapes also helps reduce erosion.

We are looking at more than 4,000 acres of vineyards and 3,800 of those acres gone organic.

Those improvements are impressive but the world has a long way to go to develop sustainable agriculture. The next time you enjoy a bottle of wine, remember the efforts made by the farmers and the owls now used to rid the land of pests.

Good news for wine lovers! Watch the video below for more!

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By Eduardo Gaskell
hi@sbly.com
Eduardo Gaskell is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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