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Importance Of Owls

Owls that feed in agricultural areas provide benefits to humans by killing large numbers of small rodents which Northern spotted owl. Photograph by John & Karen Hollingsworth. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
might otherwise eat crops in the field or in storage. Owls are also widely sought out by bird watchers, who highly value sightings of these elusive and mysterious predators. Bird watchers and other naturalists spend a great deal of money for transportation and birding paraphernalia to engage in their pursuit of owls and other species.

Owls are rarely viewed as pests. In rare instances, they may kill some gamebirds, such as grouse or pheasant, and some gamekeepers have killed owls and other birds of prey for this reason. However, owls are not true pests, and enlightened game managers no longer persecute these birds.

Owls are, however, threatened by other activities of humans. They are exposed to toxic chemicals in forestry and agriculture, and this has taken a toll on some species of owls. Burrowing owls, for example, have been poisoned by exposure to the insecticide carbofuran, which is used to control epidemic populations of grasshoppers in prairie agriculture.

More important, however, have been the effects of habitat loss on owls. Urban, industrial, and agricultural development all degrade the habitat of most species of owls and other native species, causing large reductions in their populations and even their disappearance from many areas. In North America, this type of effect is best illustrated by the case of the spotted owl, which is threatened by logging of its habitat of old-growth conifer forest. In that particular case, the owls can only be protected by setting aside large areas of suitable habitat as ecological reserves. This strategy is costly for the forest industry, because large amounts of valuable timber become protected from exploitation. However, this must be done if spotted owls and their associated species are to sustain their populations in their natural habitat.



Burton, J.A., ed. Owls of the World. Their Evolution, Structure, and Ecology. London: Peter Lowe, 1992.

Forshaw, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Academic Press, 1998.

Hume, R. Owls of the World. Limpsfield, England: Dragon's World, 1991.

Konig, K. Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World. Yale University Press, 1999.

Voous, K.H. Owls of the Northern Hemisphere. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.

Bill Freedman

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Overdamped to PeatOwls - Barn Owls, Typical Owls, Importance Of Owls