The environmental association Vita Nativa (based in Olhão) have written in to tell us about their local bird accommodation project and to report that they caught a couple of owls on camera. It looks to me from the photo (and video if you are reading online) they sent in - that there was 'no foolin' one of these wise birds. But I’ll let them tell you all about it…

The project

In nature, we know that spring is synonymous with the young. But to get to that point, the right conditions for reproduction have to be ensured. Many bird species need cavities to build their nests, whether natural or of human origin. Unfortunately, the availability of caves in the Algarve has been decreasing, motivated both by strong urban pressure, as well as by the change in land use and fires, which cause a drastic change in habitats.

In order to help, Vita Nativa created the “Local Accommodation for Birds” initiative, providing more than 1500 shelters for birds. This initiative is already in its second year, and the occupancy rate of these nest boxes was 39% in the first breeding season.

How is it going this year?

There is already some movement and some species are already forming pairs and looking for possible places to nest, as is the case of nocturnal birds of prey. Suspicious that a nest box was being occupied, Vita Nativa technicians installed a motion tracking camera and how happy we were to capture: a couple of Galician owls.

The Galician owl (Athene noctua)

Is a small nocturnal bird of prey, with a large and rounded head, without 'ears'. It has yellow eyes and protruding white eyebrows. The female is, on average, larger than the male. In Portugal, it is found throughout the mainland, particularly abundant in some areas of the Algarve. Usually, its habitat includes a wide variety of agricultural fields with walls, cereal plantations, olive groves, vegetable gardens and agroforestry systems. Their diet consists mainly of insects, other arthropods and small mammals, and may also include small birds, reptiles, amphibians and earthworms.

Pest control

Because it feeds on micromammals and is associated with anthropogenic habitats, this species, as well as other nocturnal predators, play a fundamental role in the balance of ecosystems, as they help in the control of biological pests such as rats. In another nest box of the project, occupied by barn owls, we found biological remains (skulls, teeth and bones…) of more than 200 rats consumed in just 4 months! We can only thank these fantastic birds for this work and ensure that there are still places for them to breed.

“Alojamento Local para Aves” is an initiative that won the 2018 National Participatory Budget and will last for 2 years throughout the Algarve region. It is a project that results from a collaboration between the Associação Vita Nativa and the Instituto de Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF) and which aims to help the bird populations of this region, but also to demonstrate and instil in the citizens and the different agents that manage the Algarve territory the benefits that the project's target species can bring to society and its well-being.