Swords into plowshares

Credit: Amir Ezer

Naval soldiers help turn empty munitions boxes into nesting boxes for predatory birds, thus increasing bird populations and allowing farmers to reduce or eliminate the use of rodenticides

Date: 22/04/2012, 3:45 PM     Author: Daniel Temkin

Soldiers of the Israeli Navy are currently involved in a project designed to restore predatory bird populations on farms throughout Israel, thus allowing farmers to reduce or eliminate the use of rodenticides.

Israel Military Industries (IMI) donates empty munitions boxes for the project, which is known as The Use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as Biological Pest Control Agents in Agriculture. Soldiers of the Ordnance Department of the navy, along with ornithologist Dr. Motti Charter of the University of Haifa Society for the Protection of Nature and Israeli Navy Warrant Officer Amir Ezer, then turn these boxes into nesting boxes for barn owls and Eurasian kestrel falcons. The boxes are then distributed free of charge to farmers.

The nesting boxes allow bird populations to increase by providing them with sheltered areas in which to mate. “They basically need two things: food and a place to breed. The rodents are food, and we provide them with a place to breed,” explained Dr. Charter, who for the past five years has served as the project’s scientific coordinator.

These birds, in turn, help the farmers by feeding on the rodents who eat farm crops. With lower pest populations, the farmers can use less or no rodenticide. “There are farms that have literally stopped the use of rodenticides because of this project,” Dr. Charter said.

The project also allows for increased cooperation between the Jewish and Arab sectors of the Israeli population. Barn owl populations have historically been particularly low in predominantly Arab areas. But with rising awareness of their potential for reducing pest populations, increasing numbers of Arab farmers are requesting and receiving the nesting boxes.

The farmers are not the only ones who benefit from the project. “It definitely helps the farms, but it also helps the community and the environment. It’s good for the soldiers, too. They get to learn about the birds and the methods we use,” noted Dr. Charter.

The Use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as Biological Pest Control Agents in Agriculture began in 1983 as a joint effort of Tel Aviv University, Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Approximately five years ago, the Israeli Navy and IMI began actively supporting the project. Today, it is also supported by the University of Haifa, the Hoopoe Foundation, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry for Regional Development, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. It has distributed roughly 2,500 nesting boxes and is expected to distribute over 300 more this year.