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May 3, 2013

Silent but deadly — barn owls beneficial

NORMAN — Rats, mice and gophers cause damage to homes, businesses, cropland and pastures across Cleveland County. A colony of just 100 rats will consume over one ton of grain per year and contaminate 10 times that amount with their droppings and urine.

USDA estimates the equivalent of $2 billion in U.S. grain is destroyed by rodents annually. Worldwide, rats and mice spread more than 35 diseases, many of which humans can contract. To compound the disease issue rodents have tremendous reproductive potential.

Under ideal situations, a pair of rats and their offspring can produce 20,000,000 young in three years. One rat is capable of producing another 22 breeding females in one year (assuming a 50:50 male/female ratio), which mature in three months.

While these numbers may seem overwhelming, several rodent control alternatives to trapping and poisoning are available, and I’m not referring to cats.

Enter the barn owl. Farmers, ranchers and landowners around the country are reaping the benefits, having successfully enlisted the help of this common ally in their fight against gophers and other rodents. Countless barn owls have taken up residence in wooden nesting boxes on many farms and ranches with the help of conservation-minded landowners.

Farmers and environmentalists don’t usually collaborate, but the common pocket gopher has bridged their differences, having become a costly pest in the last few decades, damaging valuable crops and irrigation lines. The good news for farmers is that gophers rank high on the barn owl’s menu.

Federal scientists have estimated that a family of barn owls can consume up to 3,000 rodents a year. To really get down to the business of pest control, all the owls need is a place to call home. Barn owl boxes are popping up all over the country and are usually erected in trees, in or on barns or atop steel poles 20 feet tall.

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