Next time you enjoy a nice glass of Napa Valley wine, thank a barn owl!
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Across California’s wine-making region, farmers are taking a natural approach to reducing harmful pests. Gophers, mice, and voles love grapes as much as humans do, and they can wreak havoc on a vineyard. Traditionally, vintners have used chemical pesticides to reduce their numbers and protect crops, yet nature’s method is tried and true.
A family of barn owls can eat as many as 1,000 rodents during their 4-month nesting season, amounting to about 3,400 in a year! Farmers have always relied on raptors to keep their rodent populations at bay because it makes less of an impact on the environment. In order to encourage owls to nest in Napa’s vineyards, they’re installing owl nesting boxes to encourage the predators to move in and get comfortable.
“Without owls, the rodent population would explode and cause a lot of damage to vineyards,” wildlife biologist Carrie Wendt explained.
Carrie has been studying the effects of this natural approach to pest control for several years. She travels around Napa Valley to install and inspect nesting boxes, tagging each bird to track their habits.
“Using barn owls to reduce rodent populations on vineyards is the alternative way to kill rodents,” said Carrie. “The mainstream conventional way is to apply rodenticides. The rodenticides are really harmful, so using owls is definitely the sustainable, eco-friendly way to reduce rodents.”
Humboldt State University in California has been conducting a long-term experiment in Napa Valley over the past few years. They’ve installed about 300 owl nest boxes at 75 different vineyards and are studying the impact owls have on pest populations. About four-fifths of these vineyards have reported a marked difference in rodent control when compared to using chemical pest control!
Researchers report that most of the vintners in their study have stopped using rodenticides entirely, simply by installing nesting boxes. Scientists still aren’t certain whether the reduction in rodents is entirely due to the owls, or whether new regulations from the state of California that limit rodenticide usage are also contributing to the statistics.
Regardless, they agree that using owls is an earth-friendly way to reduce pests and create more sustainable agriculture. They’re hopeful that nesting boxes will encourage more Napa vineyards to ditch chemicals entirely and become organic in the near future.
“There are so many opportunities for vineyard owners to enhance wildlife habitats on their vineyards that’s mutually beneficial,” said Carrie. “And I think providing barn owl nest boxes on vineyards is a perfect example of how that can flourish.”
Owls to the rescue! Using owls to reduce pests seems like such a simple solution to an age-old problem. We hope more vintners install nesting boxes to further harness the “circle of life” in this incredible way.
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