A group of long-eared owls has established itself in part of the forest in recent months, say Jewish National Fund wardens in the Mishmar Ha’emek Forest area.
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The owls are among several species of birds that have adapted themselves to the reality of expanding, man-made forests and are making their homes in the northern Israel forest for part of the year.
“Owls are known to congregate before nesting season, but we hadn't seen it in these woods until now,” said Dr. Omri Bonneh, the JNF’s chief scientist. “We will follow them to see if they actually build nests on the grounds. Owls generally tend to use old nests left by crows. They may also use old hawks’ nests.”
The long-eared owl is a bird of prey that is active at night and feeds on field mice, among other things. It was once a rather rare breed in Israel, but has multiplied in recent years.
“Owls are now found in many areas where vegetation was planted by man,” says Ohad Hatzofe, a bird ecologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. “In recent years, there has even been nesting in Sde Boker.”
According to Bonneh, in addition to owls – for whom living in trees is natural – other birds are being found in recent years in forests and wooded areas, including the long-legged buzzard, which usually nests in cliffs. “Apparently they find the mature, tall trees a comfortable environment,” says Bonneh.
Hatzofe notes that buzzards and other birds of prey don’t always have much of a choice, since in some cases man-made forests have covered the cliffs on which they previously roosted, and they adapted themselves to the new reality. He adds that it would be wise to avoid the expansion of forests into areas of low-growing shrubs, because many species of birds who live in such areas will not find trees to be a suitable alternative habitat.
The spread of long-eared owls has also brought them into urban areas. In the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv, there’s an owl that has adopted a tree in one of the local groves, where residents active in an organization called the Tel Aviv Environmental Forum have been monitoring it. These birds have also been sighted in Jerusalem, by Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel employees.
A related species, the barn owl, has also benefited in recent years from human activity, after it was concluded that it can be used as a natural predator of rodents that damage crops.
A special project being conducted by the SPNI, several government ministries and Tel Aviv University has been promoting the construction of nesting boxes for barn owls in agricultural areas. Some 3,000 nesting boxes have been built since the project was launched in 2006.
Evidence of the barn owls’ increasing prosperity is documentation of a pair of barn owls in the Judean Plains that raised 17 chicks, a staggering number that is probably a world record.