Barn owls and the natural way of farming


Some Western people use the owl as the symbol for the scientist: The owl can turn its head up to 270 degrees, it has sharp eyes, looks serious, works hard at night, and is predominantly a predator. Some Eastern people use the ganesha as the symbol for the scientist: It is a white elephant, it has big ears, is naughty, strong, and one of its tusks is broken.

When I was a child, one of the scariest stories in my hometown Temanggung in Central Java was about the voice of the barn owl at night. Many generations were told that the barn owl’s voice is a kind of signal that someone will die in the neighborhood. I saw barn owls many times in the past and many children at that time were afraid of looking at that species of bird even during the day. The myth about the barn owl actually supported the conservation of the most widespread of all birds that are active at night.

Barn owls (Tyto alba) are called burung hantu (ghost bird) in Indonesian, or piyak (based on their voice) in Javanese. The barn owl is found almost everywhere in the world except in the polar and desert regions. The barn owl is a nocturnal bird of prey that specializes in hunting the small mammals and insects on the ground by using its sound location. It has sharp talons, very good sight at night with binocular vision, and feathers that can adapt for silent flight to support its hunting activity.

Last year during the rainy season in November-December 2016 I had a chance to visit my home town in Central Java and took the first photo above. It is forbidden to catch or kill the barn owl (Tyto alba) as forced by the local law. The largest and most destructive pest around the paddy rice fields is the rats. Barn owls are a natural predator of rat.

It was reported by the local news that in order to maintain the natural balance and minimize the use of chemicals around the rice fields, the Mayor of Temanggung regency encourages farmers who want to use barn owls as a natural predator of rats. People have been working intensively with barn owls since 2012. In the early stages, farmers keep a pair of owls and they will produce six to eight offspring per year. One adult barn owl can hunt down four to eight rats per day. A farmer told me that the use of barn owls to eradicate rats is a very smart idea because the regular activity of the barn owls is at night and at the same time the rats also roam, getting out of the nest.

The second photo is about the house of barn owls (at the upper right) that can be found everywhere at the agricultural area in many villages in Temanggung regency. People try to find barn owls that are still wild and do not yet have a home. They strive to find barn owls hiding in unused buildings and put them in the houses that have been prepared. It was reported by the authority that so far more than a thousand barn owls are helping the farmers to catch and kill the rats.

The third photo is about the beautiful and smart family of four barn owls Tyto alba inside their new home. Those who intentionally kill, shoot, or bother to death the barn owl in Central Java will get a penalty to replace the maintenance cost of Rp1.2 millions (about $100) per bird. The second and third photos are courtesy of Nuswantoro. Please visit this link to hear the voice of the barn owl at night.

The barn owl has an interesting story and important role in the ecosystem to support the natural way of farming.

– Bintoro Gunadi

BRW card back

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