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Barn owls recruited to fight rodents in buffer zone.

Authorities have installed 15 artificial nests for barn owls (Tyto alba) in the buffer zone around the Nicosia airport as part of a pilot project to combat rodents, according to the Game Fund.

The area around the airport, defunct since 1974, was chosen as there are agricultural crops and livestock farms in the region which attract mice and rats, the Game Fund said.

The birds of prey are very useful for the ecosystem, as one barn owl eats around 2,000 rodents a year, and positioning nests in areas has proven to be a successful practice for reducing the number of rodents without using chemicals.

From the mid-1990s until now, the game fund has placed and is looking after, more than 200 nests in agricultural and livestock settings in an effort to spur growth in the population of barn owls.

Other birds such as kestrels and magpies have also used the nests for breeding.

According to the announcement, autumn is an appropriate time for providing new nests as it is the season when young birds are looking for new territories and nesting places.

The breeding season starts in January and ends in early summer, with some birds breeding twice when conditions are favourable.

A study by the game fund has found the average number of eggs is six while the average number of chicks surviving to leave the nest is four.

It is not sure how many barn owls are on the island, but what is sure is that their numbers are decreasing as they are often poisoned and their habitat is shrinking.

They require large areas over which to hunt. For nesting, they prefer quiet cavities, either in trees or man-made cavities such as barns, hence their name.

In Cyprus they are known as 'anthropopoulia' which translates into 'man birds', so-called because with their long legs and round face they are sometimes mistaken for human beings in the dark.

In 2015, conservationists installed owl nests in Anogira, Limassol, in a bid to protect carob trees from rats, which feed on the bark causing significant damage that can lead to loss of production.

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:Oct 8, 2018
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