California wineries that once used only toxic chemicals to protect vines now use nesting owls

Napa Valley winemakers are increasingly turning to wing workers for their pest control and moving away from the super toxic pesticides that poison everything, including their wine.

Barn owls in particular, but also hawks and other birds of prey, known as raptors, are welcomed to California vineyards for their skill at catching rats, camping voles, and gobbling up waffles – and scientists studying the impact of these strategies are finding encouraging results.

For years, Californian winemakers took pride in the I do not know what, inherent in their wines that have made Napa a world-class grape growing destination.

But, they were using super toxic “rodent-icides”, a type of poison used to kill mice and voles that munch on vines. The poison had become an industry standard in the state until the 1980s, when raptors, trapping, and other more holistic methods became more popular.

According to the nonprofit Napa Green, a trend towards chemical-free agriculture statewide is reflected in the tripling of organic vineyard acreage since 2005, with the number of organic acres having doubled over the past year. the last decade alone.

The barn owl is one of the most effective pest control in the world, found on 6 of our 7 continents and capable of eating 3,400 rodents each year.

Matt Johnson is a wildlife professor at Humboldt State who years ago started a program to study raptor pest control in vineyards and research the results. A survey by graduate student Brooks Estes found that four-fifths of California’s 75 winemakers deliberately invite owls to their property by building birdhouses.

Allison Huysman, Humboldt Stat

“We work primarily in Napa Valley, where there are over 300 barn owl nesting boxes,” Johnson wrote on his department’s webpage.

“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, ”John C. Robinson, a local ornithologist, told Bay Nature Magazine.

Courtesy of Humboldt State

Johnson and his graduate students have discovered that barn owls like their boxes to sit at least 9 feet off the ground, facing the sun, next to grassy fields, and preferably away from wooded acres.

Jaime Carlino, Humbolt State Graduate Student, by Matt Johnson

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Early surveys suggest that it is possible that more winegrowers use barn owls and even traps than pesticides, but it is unclear to what extent the use of pesticides has been avoided in favor of owls.

All the incentives are there, however, as using owls costs a lot less than trapping: 26 cents per rodent compared to $ 8.11. It is also helping a beautiful group of species to thrive.

RELATED: Revolutionary Non-Toxic Pest Control That Won’t Harm Bees

Ventura County uses birds, including hawks, hawks and owls, instead of rodenticides, on nearly 100 dikes and dams, as rodent burrows can damage structures. The Ventura County Watershed Protection Department reports savings of $ 216,000 per mile of canal compared to traps.

Owls not only help winemakers cut costs, but they make vineyards greener and ecosystems healthier, a worthy result that reflects the majesty of the famous valley.

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