Guest Blog from Viticulturist/PCA, Kelsey Ryan: Owl Boxes

kelseyWhen producing wine grapes, it is a primary concern of the grape grower to protect their crop from native and invasive pests including insects, diseases and animals. At Laetitia, we make every effort to implement a long-term, successful and safe approach to managing pests, while also protecting the habitat we farm on. Encouragement of beneficial predators is frequently used in an integrated pest management (IPM) system. The use of insectary plantings, falconry and owl boxes are all examples of this practice.

If you have ever taken a stroll through Laetitia Vineyard, you might have noticed several large bird houses perched up on 15 ft. poles. These nest boxes have been specifically built to house the barn owl, which provide shelter and protection year-round. Barn owls provide a mutually beneficial relationship with grape growers. These ghostly pale predators feed on several species of rodents, which can pose a significant threat in the production of grapevines. Vineyard ecosystems are particularly enticing to rodent species such as the pocket gopher and California vole. These burrowing rodents will feed on grapevine root systems, destroy roads and can cause erosion with their destructive tunnels. Natural predators such as the barn owl will not completely eradicate rodents, however they can certainly reduce the numbers present in the vineyard.

Barn owls are native to North America and are one of the most widespread owls in the world. Their vast DHP-LVW-9-8-08--656range can be attributed to their ability to thrive in a variety of habitats ranging from deserts, grasslands, ag fields and urban settings. Barn owls are not migratory birds, meaning they can benefit our vineyard ecosystem year-round. The barn owl is a nocturnal hunter. Several physical characteristics allow these owls to be successful hunters, including specialized sound dampening feathers for a silent flight, excellent low-light vision and extensive hearing abilities to detect prey. One nest of six young and two adults may consume more than 1,000 small animals during a nesting season! With the construction and placement of owl boxes throughout the vineyard, we can increase the presence of this already native avian hunter. At Laetitia, we care deeply to farm in a manner that has a minimal impact on the habitat and its native occupants. The practice of encouraging these natural predators will assist us in managing a balanced ecosystem.

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