“Barn owl nestboxes in vineyards: an ecological trap?” Carrie Wendt, Humboldt State University graduate student – – $1,000.
Barn owl (Tyto alba) populations are declining worldwide. In North America, declines are primarily due to land conversion, resulting in a loss of hunting and nesting habitat. With support from a conservation grant from Sequoia Park Zoo, Carrie Wendt, a wildlife graduate student at Humboldt State University, conducted a research project to examine the relationships of habitat quality, artificial nesting boxes, and barn owl quality of life in Napa Valley vineyards. Many farmers in Napa Valley construct artificial nest boxes to attract barn owls for rodent control, but there has been no published report in the U.S. addressing the concerns of habitat quality surrounding nesting boxes in vineyard ecosystems. Wendt’s project attempted to understand how various habitat factors surrounding nest boxes influence barn owl nest choice, then used this information to determine what constitutes high quality habitats for barn owls so recommendations could be made to farmers accordingly. She found that the odds of a nest box becoming occupied were positively associated with the number of hectares of grassland, mixed forest, and riparian habitat within 1km around the box. Also, taller, wooden nest boxes facing north were selected most often.