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Owl & Poisons Awareness Campaign

Written By

Boudewyn van der Lecq

Date

Jan 20, 2022

Introduction: Since the establishment of Raptor Conservation Projects in January 2000, numerous projects have been established that includes the monitoring and conservation of large birds of prey species within our urban, rural and agricultural environment. 

A subsequent niche has been established, which requires the need to explore avenues to promote owl awareness amongst the farming community by means of our successful owl nest box implementation. 

Objectives: 

To create and implement an awareness programme amongst farmers through the introduction of Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle-owl as biological pest control agents. 

Bio-control is the managed use of one organism to limit the numbers or spread of another. In concept, it is a better way of controlling pests or weeds because it pits predators or parasites against prey or hosts, and relies on the natural impact of one or the other to reduce the scale of an undesired imbalance. The owl bio-control concept is a much simpler and less risky approach to pest management. 

In farming areas with pest rodent problems, Barn Owl numbers can be increased by providing suitable nest boxes, spread evenly over the farmland, for occupation and use by breeding owls. Once in residence, the owls will hugely increase the levels of predation pressure on the nocturnal rodent population, and reduce the rodent pest factor in the area both by killing and eating large numbers of rats and mice and by limiting the extent to which the remaining rodents are prepared to venture away from protective cover. 

Overall, using owls to control rodent damage is twice as effective as using poison, and much less expensive in the long-term. An optimal array of owl nest boxes in an area requires about one box per 20 ha of cropland, with each box spaced at least 400m from its nearest neighbour. Most importantly, the Barn Owl and nest box approach avoids the severe and systemic environmental costs of repeated doses of toxins: other rodent predators are unaffected, properties remain ecologically functional, and farmland is left healthy and productive. 

Problems faced by owls in the wild Barn- and Spotted Eagle-owl Facts Habitat loss:

Due to the change in farming practices and the loss or conversion of many barns that were once used by Barn and Spotted Eagle-Owls. It is an offence to disturb nesting owls and all owls are protected by law.

Increase in road traffic and large motorways: The biggest cause of death for most of our owls especially the Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle-Owl that frequently hunt on the grass verges by the side of our roads.

Poisons through the food chain: Owls live mainly on small rodents some of which will have eaten poison; this is a problem for owls living on farms and in towns and cities where poisons are used to combat rats and mice.

Drowning: Farm reservoirs that are half full causes drowning, owls have feathers that soak up water very quickly and they become waterlogged.

Electrocution: Owls sometimes collide with power lines that maim or are cause of fatalities.

Unnatural collisions: Drivers throw garbage out of vehicle windows and trucks spill grain on the road. Predators such as owls follow their prey to the roadside, often with deadly consequences. Fences can be dangerous as the thin strands of barbed wire are less visible to flying owls and cause collisions getting caught in the barbs, dying slow deaths through thirst, starvation and shock.

Predators: Larger birds of prey will take owls as do jackal and caracal. 

Q and A 

Q. What is the primary food of the Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle-Owl?

A. the Barn Owl eats mainly small rodents (75-97%) also eats geckos, scorpions, bats, frogs, lizards and termites. The Spotted Eagle-Owl mostly eats grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, beetles, bats, snails, crabs, millipedes and snakes.

Q. How many rodents do Barn Owls consume per night?

A. Usually 6 rodents per night, equalling about 1/3 of their total body weight.

Q. What time of night are owls most active?

A. Most hunting is done before midnight, with a second hunting period beginning about 2 hours before sunrise.

Q. Do owls hunt during the day?

A. Rarely, they are a strictly nocturnal species by nature.

Q. Where do Barn Owls nest?

A. Most natural nests are in tree cavities, in caves, wells, cliff-banked holes, barns, buildings, hay bales and man-made nest boxes.

Q. How many eggs do Barn Owls and Spotted Eagle-owls lay?

A. Barn owls usually 5, but sometimes 10 or more. Spotted Eagle-owls 1 to 5, usually 2 to 3 rarely 5. 

Q. What should I do if I find an owlet on the ground?

A. Generally, all owlets fall out of the nest before they can fly adequately, they should be left alone as the adults will look out and feed them. If an owlet is injured, call your local vet or wildlife authority. At no time can you legally keep or care for an injured owl without a special permit. 

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