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Barn Owl in flight, Source: Peter K Burian, Wikipedia, (CC BY SA-4.0 International)

Barn owl nesting boxes installed in Chlorakas

Barn owl nesting boxes installed in Chlorakas

Under a pilot project, the nocturnal birds of prey are used in Cyprus to control rodent populations instead of chemicals

Six artificial bird nests suitable for barn owls have been installed in Chlorakas, a village in Paphos district, Cyprus. The effort is part of a nationwide campaign aimed at increasing the population of owls as biological control agents in farming and thus eliminating the need to use rodent-killer chemicals. Many areas in the island nation are witnessing a proliferation of rats in recent years.

Cheaper and safer

Welcoming the move, Chlorakas community leader Nikolas Liasidis said, quoted by Cyprus Mail:  “Artificial nests serve two purposes. First of all they help birds find safe and satisfying nesting areas and therefore contribute to their population recovery. Also, they help promote the biological fight against rodents, a method that is more economical and, more importantly, safer for human health since it is free from chemical poisons and preparations that serve this purpose.”

Similar pilot efforts across Cyprus have proved to be a success, as many areas which in the past have suffered from pest incursions and resorted to rodenticides, now use only artificial owl nests. According to the Agriculture Ministry, more than 400 nests have been installed so far and another 100 are in the process of preparation.

BirdLife Cyprus started the implementation of the barn owls pilot project in 2015 together with SPNI (BirdLife in Israel) with funding from the Tassos Leventis Conservation Foundation. The organization collaborates with farmers to choose the most suitable places for nest installation and holds workshops to provide information to farmers and local authorities.

Rodenticides are employed on a large scale in Cyprus. The state delivers them to local communities at a subsidised price for subsequent redistribution to farmers. Each year, some 300 tonnes of bromadiolone, a potent second generation rodenticide with anti-coagulant properties, is used in the countryside.

Silent exterminator

The barn owl (Tyto Alba) is a nocturnal bird of prey endowed with perfect night-sight, enviable hearing and noiseless flight.  Although barn owls won’t occasionally skimp on reptiles, amphibians, birds and small mammals, studies have shown that 90 per cent of their diet is made up of rodents. An adult owl can eat up 4-6 rodents each night and this number rises if  there are fledgelings to be fed.

Installing barn owl nests may seem a piece of cake, but there is a catch. These birds mainly hunt within a short 1km radius around their nest, so it is a matter of life and death to make sure that there is no rodenticide administered within this radius, otherwise barn owls are in danger of secondary poisoning. In the transitional period between cessation of pesticide use and accommodation of the owls, BirdLife Cyprus urges farmers to be patient and accept that rodent numbers may increase temporarily.

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