Got Mice? Get an Owl!

August 23, 2011

Facing a rodent problem? Before you head to the hardware store for rat poison, Alex Godby, founder of the Marin-based nonprofit Hungry Owl Project (HOP), wants to persuade you that there are better ways to deal with rats and mice.

And one of those ways is to attract owls by installing nest boxes and keeping the surrounding area free of rodenticides, which can be deadly not just to rodents but also to the birds and other predators that feed on poisoned animals and then die themselves.

“I don’t think people realize how detrimental [rodenticides] are to the environment,” says Godby. “The threat they present to wildlife and pets, and that they don’t actually work in the long term.”

Over in Bolinas, HOP volunteer Stockton Buck hopes to take the effort a few steps further than just an owl box in his backyard: He recently started a “Rodenticide-Free Bolinas” campaign in the small West Marin community at the souther end of the Point Reyes peninsula.

“Because Bolinas is a small and isolated enough community, if we could convince those in Bolinas to forego rodenticides then we could create an environment free of influence from surrounding communities,” says Buck. Wildlife there, in other words, would bye unlikely to encounter poisons in neighboring towns.

Buck began his campaign by sending out surveys to Bolinas residents. About 10 percent have responded, nearly all “strongly in favor of” a rodenticide-free Bolinas, given viable alternatives. “If you care about the environment, it’s hard to argue against,” he says. “There are so many downsides to poisons, to me it isn’t worth it.”

Through HOP, Buck has installed three owl boxes in Bolinas, and he says he hopes to eventually install at least 100 boxes throughout the community.

Godby has similarly high hopes for the project, especially because HOP now has a full decade of experience encouraging barn owls as natural rodent control, which she touts as better for the environment, good for owl populations, and effective–barn owls are skilled predators with fast metabolisms, capable of consuming thousands of rodents in a season.

If the Rodenticide-Free Bolinas campaign goes well, it may inspire similar measures in other parts of the Bay Area. As Godby says, “We’re hoping that if one town can set the example then others will follow.”

You can learn about all this and more at a presentation called “Using Barn Owls for Safe and Effective Rodent Control” at Sunnyside Nursery in San Anselmo (130 Sir Francis Drake Blvd) on August 27 at 11 am. Wookie, HOP’s wildlife ambassador who happens to be a barn owl, will also be making an appearance at the presentation.

Learn more at www.hungryowl.org.

About the Author

Joan Curtis is a Bay Nature editorial intern.

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