Relying on birds to battle farm pests

In California, farmers are building nesting houses for birds, attracting swallows, Western bluebirds, and barn owls to combat pests, rather than relying on pesticides, according to FERN’s latest story by Lisa Morehouse, produced in collaboration with KQED’s The California Report.

Dennis Tamura, at Blue Heron Farm near Watsonville, California, said a neighbor first installed the bird boxes about 15 years ago; now he observes them catching insects and returning to the houses to feed their young.

“Pesticide use and habitat loss shrunk the bird population in North America by almost 3 billion since 1970. That’s nearly a 30 percent drop,” Morehouse reports. “The whole ecosystem feels that loss, since birds pollinate plants, and, like on this farm, control pest insects.”

Researchers are also studying the birds, Matt Johnson, professor at Humboldt State University, spends his days studying the relationship between birds and farms, visiting boxes in Napa Valley vineyards.

People have built birdhouses for centuries, and Johnson says that farmers from Chile to South Africa put up barn owl boxes because they’ve seen barn owls eat rodents on their farms.

You can listen to the full story at The California Report, or read it on FERN.