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the ultimate in rodent control

Posted by digit Z5 (My Page) on
Wed, Jun 6, 07 at 0:59

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I am very pleased that 3 owls have moved into the neighbor's hay shed.

Of course I didn't take this picture - it was contributed to a university site and I'm just keeping the contribution going.

Three days ago, I crawled thru the weeds and took a snapshot of the 2 babies. They were in the process of grooming and just a blur of feathers. I got a picture of the adult at the other end of the barn (I'm assuming Mom). She very nearly had this expression but the angle and everything was "tortured" and very distant.

After my exertions to document their residence, I dropped the camera and, to really take care of things, stepped on it. It was in the carry case but the photo's (over 60) were gone when I checked at home - except for the 2 earliest saved all the way from last year. At least, this camera abuse is how I account for the loss of the pictures. I once was a pretty good 35 mm photographer - with this little digital, I am incredibly lame.

Yesterday, I was out there before sunrise. The adult owl was in the garden and flew onto the roof of a small nearby shed - against the light of the eastern sky, her image was striking - of course I didn't have the camera.

The magpies were already up and 2 were tormenting the owl on the shed. She was having none of it - - probably 5 times their size, she was very aggressively going after the magpies beak, talon, and feather. I'm sure she'll have them for breakfast if she is able to catch them. I first became aware of the owls in the hay shed when I noticed a sea gull leg down on the floor. Yikes!

All evidence of rabbits in the garden is waaay down.

digitS'


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

I have a cherry tree in my backyard, and for many years, I had no idea what the cherries tasted like since they got eaten before I had a chance to try them. A kestrel made a nest next door one year, and for some reason the birds that had always raided the cherry tree were absent that year. Now I know that the cherries that almost ripen on my tree are tasty.

In the war between the owl and the magpies, I'm rooting (or is that hooting?) for the owl.


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

Thanks for the HOOT, BP.

Using imitation predators should work - not everyone is so lucky as your were and I am! Owl decoys seem to be commonly available and not high priced.

The key may well be from the advice of a District Wildlife Biologist at the DNR, who wrote into a home-improvement forum: "Use of owl and hawk decoys may be successful if properly undertaken. Decoys must be moved TWO OR THREE TIMES a day and it is best to have more than one type of decoy."

Having observed the owls for about 3 weeks now, I have noticed that one or more of them often spend their days back in the shadowy recesses of a tree. They tend not to go anywhere thru the daylight hours so, especially, during the time that the birds might otherwise be out feasting on your fruit - an owl sitting quietly in a tree would encourage them to tread very softly in your yard.

An alternative to protecting your cherry tree was also covered by the DNR guy: ". . . utilizing guns on songbirds . . . is a violation of the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and anyone harming or harassing a migratory bird is subject to arrest by federal or state law enforcement officials."

The hawks in my dad's neighborhood take advantage of him feeding the birds. The birds like to hang out in the spruce on the west side of the house and then eat at his feeders on the east side. I've seen it happen more than once - a sharp-shinned hawk (I believe) comes right over the house from the west during the late afternoon. The birds at the feeders panic. If they fly towards the spruce and safety - they fly right at the hawk. If they fly away - the hawk is moving much faster.

The wee birds aren't stupid, however. I've noticed that they commonly use a "fly around the north side of the house" route to get back to the spruce. This route allows them to take some advantage of the neighbor's trees and cut under a roof on that side of the house. Also, they keep the sun out of their eyes.

The magpies are pains. No doubt people with better hearing have their issues with the birds. They are MAJOR nest robbers of the smaller birds. And, right now, their own babies are coming off the nests. Magpie tendencies are to form mobs and make as much noise as possible under every circumstance. Along with the starlings, I blame part of their large population numbers on careless dog-owners. Please, please don't leave your dog's food bowl out after he has finished eating. You are feeding the neighborhood varmints.

digitS'

This is how I usually see raptors. Note the different lengths of tail and wings for each of the hawks:
Buteos (red tail, etc.) - short tail, short wings.
Accipiters (sharp-shinned, etc.) - long tail, short wings.
falcons (kestrel, etc.) - long tail, long wings.

Sometimes it is really difficult to judge size when the birds are in the air. Males and females of the same species differ markedly in size. Color is also difficult to see when the light is above the birds and the viewer is below, these birds change color with age and they exhibit polymorphism (from Greek: poly "many", morph "form") "discontinuous variation in a single population in other words, the occurrence of more than one form or type of individual."
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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

Our owls around here got hammered by West Nile, and there was some other virus that whacked the magpie population down considerably. This led to an upsurge in skunks, which, apparently, are' prime rib ' if you're a great horned owl, who either can't smell or just don't care.

Magpies are coming back, but I haven't seen heard an owl for a couple years now. The bird festival that came through over Memorial Day weekend found a pair of nesting owls, the ones that use prairie dog holes.


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

May have been West Nile killing the pied maggies as well, David. The article linked below mentions yellow-billed magpies. Wikipedia claims that the two American forms, black-billed & yellow-billed, can be considered as one species.

The linked news article says that 90% of the crows were killed by the infection in Washington DC. The ornithologist talking about the problem says densely populated urban areas aren't good for birds and WN is just another hazard for them there.

The 90% loss is incredible but I suppose there's tremendous "depth to the bench" with crow populations. Outside the urban core, crows are probably greatly benefited by human activities. So if our population grows, their numbers do too.

Apparently, magpies are benefiting as well. They are both listed as "Lower Risk/least concern (BirdLife International 2004)" and magpie populations studies have indicated increasing numbers.

Happily, the Great Horned Owl, American Kestrel, and the Sharp-shinned fit into the "least concern" category also.

digitS'

Here is a link that might be useful: West Nile virus - birds


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

Magpies are smart birds. As a teen, I raised a very young baby magpie that pretty much imprinted on humans and learned to talk. It said a half-dozen phrases very clearly. I had considered releasing it when grown, but unfortunately one of the phrases it learned was "here kitty, kitty!" Add that to the fact that its diet was cat food, and I think it would have been a death sentence to release it, especially around my house! It also learned to say "hello" whenever the phone rang. My favorite, though, was how it used my Mom's voice to say "Stop that! Quit that!" in rapid succession, finishing with laughter in my voice! My mom regretted letting me bring the little guy inside the house (you can guess why it was her voice saying "stop that!")


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

I'd like to put all these passeriform birds together - magpies, ravens, jays, crows, blackbirds, orioles, meadowlarks, starlings. I'd need to stand myself on my head to do it but they all seem closely related in my mind. I suppose that I'd throw mockingbirds in there, also, if I really knew anything about them.

Ravens are so smart that they are actually a little scary. But it may just be that they are the largest of the group and possess a few more brain cells.

A garage not far from where I lived as a kid had a myna bird. I thought it was the greatest thing to go in there and listen to it talk. Can't find a much closer cousin to a starling.

My hearing can't at all be trusted but if I get the hearing aids tuned high enuf . . . starlings become remarkable in their calls and imitations. They imitate meadowlarks and even killdeers. When cell phones first arrived on the scene and the phones all had basically the same ring - starlings began imitating cell phones. I've read that they also mimic car alarms. And, they hang around and sing (is that the right word) in their silly fashion all Winter.

I tell Dad that, you may not like 'em but you've got to admit that they really try harder.

digitS'


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

By way of a stark contrast to the first photo - here's my shot at the babies in the hay barn.

They are just now developing "horns" like Ma Owl. She has departed out the east side of the building just before I showed up with the camera. I'm actually standing in the garden while taking this picture, to let you know how close their protection is.

One baby is looking after his mother saying, "Ma, he's making eyes at me!"

I'll try to get a photo of Ma Owl. She has a striking silhouette when she's sitting on a small shed nearby just before sunrise. With some luck, these garden partners will be with me all season.

digitS'

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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

Very cool, Digit! These are great buddies to have around.

The local paper says lots of peregrine falcon fans will be on the sidewalks of downtown Salt Lake City for the next few weeks as a pair of babies are expected to fledge anytime now. The parents nest in this box on a tall building (the old Hotel Utah) every year, and every year, dozens of people watch as they take their first flight. They are prepared to stop traffic if the birds land in the street and to rush them to veterinary care if they fly straight into a window. All of these are things that have happened in recent years.

It's nice to see people care so much about some of nature's wonderful creatures.


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control . . .

Hey, actually it's *four* baby falcons getting ready to fly in SLC in the next few weeks! The state has a webcam set up for live streaming video from the next box:

http://wildlife.utah.gov/peregrine/


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

I just brought up this thread to be mean . . . In my garden, the vole problem has been very limited this year.

The owls moved out of the barn a few months ago but an owl flew over the garden back about October 1st when I was out there before daylight. And, I found pigeon and dove feathers in the barn on a couple of mornings - actually, what was left of a dove including the feathers. So, the owls still used the barn right thru the Summer.

When I was in the garden yesterday, a large red-tail flew over very low. In a few minutes, he flew back over the garden. Shortly thereafter, we scared a rabbit out of the double row of mustard. It was remarkable that he was brave enuf to hide there with so little cover. The hawk probably resented our arrival and the subsequent departure of the rabbit.

Here's something I wrote on the veggie forum just a couple weeks ago: "I've frequently seen a red-tail hawk sitting on a high post at the end of the neighbor's grapes. He will be out there for a little while even when we are just 50 - 100 feet away. The other day, he was eating something (and I'm absolutely certain it wasn't a ripe grape ;o). I stayed out of the garden until he'd finished every 'mousel' and flew away."

Maybe a high post nearby would help encourage the wild birds-of-prey. They've certainly been a help for me this year.

BTW - On 2 occasions, I have been successful with, at least, getting the vole to vacate its home using a hose and water. Filled in the hole with soil and that was that. Level ground but very porous, rocky soil . . . If I had to do this with every vole hole in the nearby alfalfa fields it would be a full time job.

digitS'


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

I have a fleet of skunks that visit my yard every evening, and they do keep down the mice. They also confirmed for me that the thing thats killing my lawn is something that is edible, skunkwise, since they tear up the grass all around where it has been dying. So I think I got grubs.


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RE: the ultimate in rodent control

I hear owls all of the time in the big cottonwood tree right outside my bedroom window but rarely see them.

We've had some other rodent control in our neighborhood lately....

We have a mountain lion and bobcat that's been roaming the neighborhood all summer and keeping everybody on edge. The lion ate a neighbor's dog (several others are missing) and attacked a horse last week that took two vets two hours to stitch up.

We saw the bobcat yesterday prowling around the edge of our property in the scrub oak possibly hunting bunnies because that's where there are tons of bunnie homes. I guess he's pretty big for a bobcat, I'm told. He has no tail and those cute pointy ears.

My son regularly plays down in the canyon but with the mountain lion attacks so fresh, he and the dog are not allowed down there and they're not happy about it :( I understand that's the price one pays for living in a wildlife area.

The bonus is we've rarely seen deer this whole summer, the bunnies are much more scarce and not once has there been any damage in the veggie garden. Now that I think about it, I haven't heard the coyotes like we did last summer every night either.


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