WATSONVILLE -- The barn owl is a killer. A highly efficient predator that can easily hunt down, tear apart and consume 12 rodents a night.
"If you get a nesting pair and say four juvenile owlets in a box, they can eat anywhere from 36 to 70 rodents every evening," said Duane Titus of Humane Wildlife Control.
Humane Wildlife Control is a Moss Landing-based pest control company that erects barn owl nesting boxes atop 20-foot poles all over Central California to attract the winged predators to rodent-plagued areas.
"Since the 1940s, the typical way to deal with rodent infestations was to put down highly poisonous rodenticides in and around buildings," said Titus. "The beauty of using wildlife to control rodent populations is we're not putting any toxins in the environment, which is good news for kids and pets and basically any other living thing that might blunder into it."
Most recently, Humane Wildlife Control built two owl boxes on the property of Pajaro Dunes North, a gated residential community on the ocean, outside Watsonville.
Jenette Stellato, operations manager at Pajaro Dunes, said gophers, moles and mice have become a problem on her property, especially since the drought.
"I knew I didn't want to use poison. It can be eaten by our cats and raccoons and other animals," said Stellato. "After Humane Wildlife Control told me about the owl boxes, I took the idea to our board of directors."
Although it can take up to a year for the owl boxes to be inhabited by one or more barn owls, Stellato is hopeful the boxes will attract a nesting pair soon.
Owl boxes are springing up all over Central California. Titus said he and wife and business partner Rebecca Dmytryk have installed owl boxes in Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties. Later this week, they'll be installing a new owl box near the Haute Enchilada, the popular Moss Landing eatery.
The couple even has an owl box installed on the property of their own Elkhorn Slough area home. Their personal box is fitted with a web cam, which can be accessed by the public at www.ustream.tv/channel/22131044.
"Right now the female is sitting on six eggs. If you tune in around 7 p.m., you can watch the male fly out of the box. He'll feed her first before feeding himself," said Titus.
An owl box cannot be built just anywhere, however, Titus said. It needs to be near a large tree so the owlets have somewhere to safely learn to fly to. It also needs to be oriented away from the wind and due east so the bright daytime sun doesn't beat down on the entrance.
Titus said the owl boxes are cheap and easy to install. Raw materials cost only $200.
"Barn owls are the perfect pest control, incredibly efficient and all-natural," Titus said.
To receive barn owl box instructions or order a barn owl box installation, visit www.humanecontrol.com or call 855-548-6263. ------ (c)2016 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. AMX-2016-03-29T00:01:00-04:00