Natural pest control is such a hoot

Posted by Laura Grant on October 1, 2009
Posted in Conservation, Lead

scops-owl

Owls are associated with wisdom in some cultures, think of the wise old owl in the Winnie the Pooh stories. But, sadly, those stories are about as close as some kids are ever likely come to the birds.

Not everyone in South Africa would see this as a big loss, though. Owls are feared in many African cultures because they’re associated with back luck and death. Take this story from a Birdlife International news release this week, for instance. A family in Zimbabwe apparently  called their local Birdlife for help because they feared they’d been bewitched by an owl and were apparently afraid for their lives.

The owl turned out to be a white-faced Scops-owl (Otus leucotis), like the one pictured above, that had been hanging around the family’s home for about four months. “The father of the family was very scared and did not want to go anywhere near the tree where the owl was perched”, Rueben Njolomole, BirdLife Zimbabwe’s education officer said. “The owl did not want to leave the source of it’s food, and may have been a domesticated owl which had escaped because it was not scared of humans.”

Owls’ nocturnal calls may seem creepy to some, I suppose, but to others they’re lovely and the birds serve a useful purpose in suburbia. They can eat thousands of rodents each year, reducing the need for other, often poisonous, methods of control.

Birdlife Zimbabwe says it has decided to do something about the negative folklore surrounding owls in that country. Its staff are visiting local schools to educate children about the benefits the birds can bring and the organisation wants to produce a 30-minute documentary for national television to demystify  owls.

In South Africa, owls have much the same image problem. But I just came across a company called EcoSolutions that’s doing its bit to make people in Johannesburg and other urban centres more owl friendly. It has set up an urban owl box project in Gauteng, Northwest and the Western Cape provinces in a bid to give the neighbourhood spotted eagle owls and barn owls somewhere to breed.  The project also entails an education programme in schools.

“Many owls hunt within suburban gardens and although food is available, breeding sites are in short supply,” EcoSolutions says on its website.

So, if you want to do your bit to bring owls back to your leafy ‘burb – and encourage natural rodent control – you can contact EcoSolutions about installing an artificial owl breeding box in your garden – look at their website for more information.

Alternatively, if you’re good with tools, you could build your own owl box, the Endangered Wildlife Trust put together some information on how to do it here.

Picture credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/frank-wouters/ / CC BY 2.0

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