After many years of being scarce in Israel, owls are once again thriving in the country’s forests and agricultural areas.
According to scientists from the Jewish National Fund, the habitats created by Israel’s manmade forests in the north have provided a place for long-eared owls to roost.
Ohad Hatzofe, a bird specialist for the Israel Nature and Parks authority, said that owls have been seen in planned forests in increasing numbers in recent years.
“Owls are now found in many areas where vegetation was planted by man,” Hatzofe said. “There has even been nesting in Sde Boker.”
In northern Israel, a number of long-eared owls have even been spotted gathering during nesting season, something that while usual behavior for owl populations, hasn’t been seen in Israel’s maturing forestlands until now.
“We will follow them to see if they actually build nests on the grounds,” Dr. Omri Bonneh, chief scientist of JNF, said of the nesting owls. “Owls generally tend to use old nests left by crows. They may also use old hawks’ nests.”
Owls have also been spotted in urban areas such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where they often use mature trees in wooded park regions to nest and thrive.
In addition to long-eared owls, barn owls are also making a comeback, thanks to an innovative program sponsored by Tel Aviv University and in cooperation with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).
Barn owls, which thrive on rodents and small vertebrate animals, are being encouraged to make a home in Israel’s agricultural regions with 3,000 nesting boxes. In addition to adding more diversity to the ecosystem, the predators provide a benefit to farmers, by naturally eliminating rodents and small pesticides and reducing the need for chemical pesticides.
“Owls are hunting machines that halt the spread of rodents in the fields,” Dr. Yossi Leshem of Tel Aviv University said of the benefit of more owls in Israel.
The growth of the owl population has also delighted bird watchers, which flock to Israel for the growingly diverse bird populations found throughout the country, especially during migration season.