Our Farm is Managed to Help Farmland Raptors, "Mother Nature's" rodent cops!
A Bald eagle soars over my parents' farm on New Year's Day 2017 (below), A Northern Harrier juvenile, flies over the hay fields (above). Photos taken by my sister, Verna Case, as we enjoyed an unseasonably warm holiday. An American kestrel was camera-shy as it dined on a field mouse from a utility wire, exiting before we could capture him through the camera lens. Increasing grassland acres has encouraged these raptors to stay in the area. We are hoping they successfully nest and raise young to help increase their numbers to control rodents on farms. While Bald eagles are not part of the farmland raptor project, our Nation's symbol is always a welcome sight.
Barn owls nest in hollow trees, empty silos, old barns. Boxes made out of plywood can be placed in barns to encourage owls to raise a family and help keep the rodent population controlled. This baby owl was the youngest of seven banded by Dan Mummert, PA Game Commission in 2015 near Blue Marsh Lake.
Ever since I was a young girl, I have been fascinated by the majestic birds of prey that soared over my parents' farm. I would watch the circling Redtail hawks from astride my horse, Charlie, as I rode around the farms in our rural community. Sparrow hawks were a common sight on the telephone wires and poles that ran along the field edges and roadways. My interest and curiosity led me to the library where I found the book Hawks Aloft, written by the curator of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Maurice Broun. After much pestering, I convinced my parents to drive from Dauphin County to northern Berks County and the mountaintop where hawks, eagles, vultures, and other birds of prey migrate along every fall.
Who knew that nearly 50 years later I would be volunteering to help Hawk Mountain Sanctuary with a project to increase the numbers of Barn Owls, American Kestrels, Short Earred Owls, and Northern Harriers. These birds eat thousands of rats, mice, moles and voles every year. Unfortunately, their numbers are plummeting in the 21st century due to increased conversion of farmland to other uses, loss of habitat and suitable nesting sites.
To help increase populations of these farm-friendly raptors, nesting boxes can be built, and more grass hay land can be added to crop rotations. Delaying harvest of hay until late June, after the ground-nesting owls and harriers have raised their broods, is also an important management tool.
Of course, nesting boxes cost money for building materials. To help raise these funds, my parents helped me get started recycling empty wine bottles into lights that a friend, Elaine Briner, paints with unique artwork. Donations for the lights are given to Hawk Mountain and boxes are built and distributed to interested landowners.
A minimum donation of $20 per light is requested. If the bottles need to be mailed, an additional $5 per light is needed to cover shipment. Donations are tax deductible and all checks should be made payable to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Each design is unique. If you would like to see available lights before ordering, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 610-589-5617.
Anyone interested in supporting the program through the purchase of a wine-bottle light can also get them by visiting the gift shop at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. If you want to build your own nesting boxes, you can get design information by going to www.hawkmountain.org and searching farmland raptors. The website has plans for both Barn Owl and American Kestrel nesting boxes.