California Vineyards Switch from Toxic Pest Repellants to Nesting Owls

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Napa Valley vineyards are moving away from toxic pesticides and turning to winged workers for pest control. Owls, in particular, have become the pest control of choice for many California vineyards. 

While the Napa Valley is the cream of the crop when it comes to wine, the industry at large would use super-toxic "rodent-icides" that would kill the mice and voles that ate the grapevines, but in the 80s many vineyards opted for more humane and holistic approaches that kept the pesticides off their plants.

Now, Napa is trending towards chemical-free, as the number of organic acres has almost doubled in the last decade alone. This is in part, thanks to the assistance of raptor birds of prey, like owls. 

Matt Johnson, a wildlife professor at Humboldt State, began a program to study the efficiency of raptor pest control in vineyards and found that 80% of the California vineyards he studied had invited barn owls in by building nest boxes.

"You can literally put a barn owl nest box in the exact location where you think you have a problem with the small mammals and voila! The owls will start using that area," John C. Robinson, a local ornithologist, told Bay Nature Magazine.

One barn owl can feast on 3,400 rodents each year and are more cost-efficient than traps. The cost incentive alone is the reason so many have made the switch, but more importantly, preserving the integrity of the plants and keeping the poison out of their wine has made all the difference.

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