California wineries turn to owls for organic pest control

When talking about a fine California wine, drinkers will discuss everything from the soil to the fruit to the skillful hand of the winemaker. But here’s a little guy who is often overlooked: the owl that protected these vines from rodent attacks.

Nature Bay recently featured magazine research conducted in the Department of Wildlife at Humboldt State University under the direction of Professor Matt Johnson. Students graduating from his lab studied the impact of birds – mostly owls – on California vineyards as a greener option instead of using rodenticides. Of the 75 wineries surveyed by the lab, about 80% say they now use owl boxes to try to control rodents, especially ground squirrels, and Johnson explains that Napa Valley alone has over 300 such boxes which, if properly installed. , will naturally be transformed into new homes by owls native to the region.

Credit: Hector Ramon Perez / Unsplash

“There has been an increase in the use of birdhouses in California vineyards, not just in the Napa / Sonoma area, but also in other areas such as the Central Valley,” Johnson told me by th -mail. “It is interesting that the use of barn owl nesting boxes is also used in other regions and for other cultures around the world, such as Israel (alfalfa and other crops), Malaysia (palm trees), in Kenya (mixed vegetables), Spain (olive, etc.), and central California (pistachio and fig). ”

A team of three graduate students from the lab would monitor up to about 280 of these nesting boxes in 65 different vineyards, and a family of owls in each nest can apparently feast on about 3,400 rodents on average each year. The main focus of the lab’s research is to prove that these owl boxes really do reduce rodent numbers – something they say they haven’t yet conclusively achieved – but what they found was is that the farmers who use these boxes also use less rodenticides.

“Whether the use of barn owl cans caused this reduction in rodenticides is of course not proven,” Johnson said. “Nevertheless, this result is encouraging.

Either way, the ease with which owls are ready to settle in vineyards seems to be worth it. “You can literally put a barn owl nesting box right where you think you have a problem with small mammals, and voila! The owls will start using this area, ”said John C. Robinson, an ornithologist based in the Bay Area. Nature Bay.

But to be honest, if you offered me a free house next to a winery, I would probably do the same.

This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com

(Main and feature image credit: Getty Images)

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