Keeping barn owls off endangered list

January 28, 2009 7:23:52 PM PST
Barn owls were once a common sight in the Bay Area, but in recent years their numbers have declined. In fact, they are listed as endangered species in seven midwestern states. In this Focus on Solutions report, how one North Bay non-profit is hoping to keep them from becoming endangered locally.

They are magnificent creatures, but the common barn owl is not so common in these parts anymore. Urban sprawl is taking away their habitat and their food supply is being poisoned.

"Unfortunately what has happened is the poison being used also kills the predators," says Alex Godbe with the Hungry Owl Project, a division of the San Rafael based non-profit Wildcare.

Godbe says owls are being killed by poisons used by farmers to kill rodents -- the owls' main source of food. Her idea therefore is simple, provide homes for owls, they will take over the pest control duties and you won't need the poisons.

"Of any animal for their size, they eat more rodents than any other creature. They are also non-territorial, so you can attract barn owls very easily, more to an area? as many barn owls as you need," says Godbe.

Usually five to seven owls will live on one nesting box. A hungry owl can eat nearly a third of its weight each day.

"So you're looking at something like 7,000 to 9,000 rodents consumed in a year of a breeding pair," says Godbe.

For generations farmers have counted on barn owls to keep their crops from being damaged by rodents. So now an old idea is getting new wings.

"We used to use traps which was not all that effective," says Barbara Banke with Kendall Jackson.

Kendall Jackson wines has ordered 100 boxes from the Hungry Owl Project to scatter around thousands of acres of vineyards.

"It's much more effective for rodent control, because that's one of the things that you worry about with the grape harvest," says Banke.

Gophers and other rodents can damage plants and bring disease. The night hunting owls can keep the populations under control.

"These owl boxes would be great for all of our vineyards. So I think we can put them up wherever we see a need, and there's always a need," says Banke.

The Hungry Owl Project charges $90 per owl box that includes monitoring of the owls inside.

"All the boxes are made by students or Eagle Scout projects or community projects or retired individuals," says Godbe.

The Kendall Jackson owl boxes are being built by students at Larkspur Middle School in Marin County. Woodshop teacher Ted Stoeckly has been turning out owl boxes for the last five years in his woodshop class.

"As part of their requirement as 8th graders they earn community service hours for this as well as have an opportunity to have an involvement with an organization like Wildcare and Hungry Owl Project," says Stoeckly.

The kids don't seem to mind the hard work.

Student comments include, "I have a love for animals and I just love cherishing life," "I think it makes a big difference," and "I kind of want to help save the world from global warming and that stuff and this a way to help a little, at least."

The Hungry Owl project has just received an order for 500 owl boxes. If you would like to help them out, visit their Web site at

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.