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Plan underway to save rodent-eating barn owls

The government is about to prepare a national action plan for using barn owls to control rodents, the agriculture ministry announced on Tuesday.

The plan was decided on at a meeting held at the agriculture ministry with the participation of Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis, representatives of the forestry department, the veterinary services, the game fund and BirdLife Cyprus.

All participants agreed on the positive impact of using the owls as a means of biological rodent control and the need for cooperation to develop the best possible action plan.

It is expected that the use of the bird, whose population has decreased in recent years due to human activities and loss of habitat, will also contribute to its conservation.

A group of representatives of the different departments and services is expected to prepare the plan within the next three months.

In addition, the issue is going to be discussed at the tripartite meeting between Cyprus, Greece and Israel on December 20, when the three countries will exchange relevant know-how and experience.

“Israel especially has gained a lot of experience over the last years in the exploitation of the barn owl for the biological control of rodents,” an announcement said.

The barn owl feeds on small mammals, mainly rodents. The birds 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.

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 in an effort to spur growth in the population of barn owls.

In October, authorities installed 15 artificial nests for barn owls (Tyto alba) in the buffer zone around Nicosia airport as part of a pilot project to combat rodents.

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