In the fight against pests, the University of Idaho is looking to the skies.  Jason Thomas said University of Idaho Extension has a long-running project, building, distributing and monitoring wooden houses for nesting barn owls, primarily in the SE corner of the state.  Roughly 150 of the owl boxes have been sold since the program started, and Thomas estimates pests such as voles and mice are being held in check across 76,374 acres of Idaho Ag land thanks to owls.


Thomas says since a farmer can control where the barn owl’s home is, that make the animal a great asset when it comes to pest management.  He added barn owls will hunt within a mile of those boxes.


“We have an organic grower down in the Magic Valley and he has about 1,000 acres and he's got 30 barn owl boxes on his operation and he hasn't had too many problems over the last eight years with voles.  Now it's not going to be a silver bullet.”


Thomas added nature is complicated and the barn owls serve as one more tool in the tool box to help keep commodities safe during the growing season.  He cited a 2010 study that looked at 111,000 skulls found in barn owl pellets proves how effective these predators are when it comes to pest management.


“This [study] was up in northern Utah so really close to our border and he found that 76% of those skulls were voles, and then 17% or closer to 18% were mice.  So almost exclusively at least in the northern Utah area, which should translate to this area, barn owls are feeding on voles and mice.”


Thomas noted that dealing with pests is complicated and when producers can use nature as an ally, everyone wins.  To learn more about the owl box program visit the University of Idaho's Website.



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