Throughout the past two decades, University of Florida researcher Richard Raid has seen barn owl populations expand in the Everglades Agricultural Area. These beautiful raptors are actually beneficial to growers, as they help to control rodents and other pests that damage the area’s sugarcane, rice and vegetable crops, causing an estimated $30 million in losses each year. To study the owls and help bolster populations of this threatened species, Raid and his students at the UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center started the UF Barn Owl Project, which builds and promotes the use of nesting boxes for the owls. Since starting the project 20 years ago, populations have expanded to more than 400 nesting pairs.
However, the barn owls are now being threatened by invasive Africanized honey bees, which are taking over the nesting boxes to build hives, displacing or even killing the owls. To control the bees, Raid is working with entomologists at the Ft. Lauderdale REC, using integrated pest management methods to attract the bees into new hives away from the owl nesting boxes, and trapping the bees when they swarm using synthetic pheromones. So far, the research efforts appear to be working. Bee colonies in the owl nesting boxes have dropped dramatically, allowing the owls the room they need to raise families and do the (inadvertent) work of protecting the area’s valuable agricultural crops.
The UF Barn Owl Project is just one of the many research, teaching and outreach programs conducted at the Ft. Lauderdale REC. To learn more, visit our website.
Richard Raid inspects a barn owl nesting box in Belle Glade, FL. UF/IFAS File Photo