The Cascades Raptor Center has found ideal homes for orphaned barn owls raised & rehabilitated by the Center: organic wineries in search of natural, chemical-free pest control. Strolling through fields of ripening grapevines in Oregon's wine country, one might notice the many Barn Owl houses mounted in trees at the edge of the vineyards. The unoccupied houses are awaiting tenants provided free of charge by the Cascades Raptor Center; part of program in which the center, the wineries and above all the owls are winners.
According to Louise Shimmel, executive director of the nonprofit CRC, barn owls like to build their nests in hay bales, which aren't as permanent as the owls seem to think. While adult owls will simply fly away from a disrupted bale, owl chicks don't have that option and often suffer injuries in the process. The CRC receives about 200 birds into its animal hospital annually and “This year,” said Shimmel, “we had a bumper crop of barn owls.”
Once the owls recover from their trauma and grow large enough to be released into the wild, the question of where to release them comes up. The best answer is an organic winery: the owls conduct natural pest control and reduce the number of rodents burrowing among the vine roots, and the rodents they eat are uncontaminated by chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
King Estate Winery in Eugene hooked up with CRC three years ago and Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner began participating this year. “Rather than use poisons or gases or traps,” explained Jan Green, facilities manager at Willamette Valley Vineyards, “we try to do everything here in ways that are environmentally sound. At dusk, when you see raptors flying around you feel like you're helping Mother Nature... It's good for everybody.” I'll drink to that! (via Oregon Live and Lodi News-Sentinel, owl image via Chris Phan)