Alex Godbe (with Wookie), San Anselmo, California
Founder and director, Hungry Owl Project
"When I was interning at a wildlife rehabilitation center in San Rafael, California, I was shocked to see how many birds were being poisoned by pesticides or rodenticides. People put out poison to kill mice and gophers, but it works its way up the food chain and harms other wildlife. Cornell University scientists estimate that about 70 million birds are killed each year by pesticides.
"I thought that if owls can control rodent populations, why not use natural predators instead of poison? Owls are amazing--they can consume up to a third of their body weight per night, and a family of five can kill 3,000 rodents in one season.
"So I started the Hungry Owl Project to work with schools and build owl boxes, which we then sell to communities and businesses--particularly vineyards, golf courses, and ranches, where they have a real problem with gophers. In exchange, these businesses agree not to use poison.
"Owls find the boxes on their own, and since the boxes simulate their natural nests, they move right in. Volunteer tree climbers install the boxes and even put cameras inside some of them so that people can watch the owls on our Web site. We've installed more than 500 boxes and can't keep up with demand. We've gotten feedback from happy vineyard owners saying the owls, in conjunction with a nontoxic pest-control spray, are more effective than the toxic chemicals they were using before.
"When we go to schools to teach workshops, the kids have fun making the boxes, but the owls are the real stars. We have one named Wookie that we've brought on over 30 presentations, and the kids are fascinated by his huge eyes. I think owls are just the most mysterious, magical creatures. I always feel a sense of wonder in their presence." —interview by Orli Cotel
WHOO GOES THERE? Barn owls like Wookie can locate prey by sound alone. Their disk-shaped facial ruff channels sound into their asymmetrical ears, which allow the birds to pinpoint the source of any noise.