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Barn owls join fight against Kangaroo Island pests


Barn owls are being recruited for a pilot project on Kangaroo Island to eradicate up to 5000 feral cats feeding on local wildlife and spreading disease to livestock. Watch the video

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The Feral Cat Eradication Project started in 2020 targeting the island’s Dudley Peninsula, with team officer Nathan Lennane saying that about 80 per cent of the feline pests had been since removed by using trapping, cameras and fencing.

Now the project team is installing 12 specially designed barn owl nest boxes to help the native night predators breed in higher numbers and replace the work of feral cats in hunting mice and rats on the island’s north east.

Lennane said anecdotal evidence received by the Kangaroo Island Landscape Board (KILB) overseeing the project showed more native birds and animals such as the dunnart and southern brown bandicoot could now thrive.

“It’s hard to judge but we have had a lot of comments from farmers about more swans, baby birds, and at Penneshaw (on the Dudley Peninsula) there’s an indication it’s having an impact as the Little Penguins are breeding better,” Lennane said.

Under the project, some feral cats were first fitted with tracking collars so officers could better understand their habits.

Now cameras are installed throughout the 384 km2 region to help trap and record feral cat numbers with hopes they will be completely removed from Dudley Peninsula by June 2025.

The feral cat eradication project is expected to eventually spread across the island where there are also nesting boxes in place for endangered glossy-black cockatoo, this year one pair of barn owls took over a box to produce its own babies.

The goal is to eradicate all feral cats from the island by 2030, along with gradually phasing out all domestic cats.

Kingscote Men’s Shed is building owl nest boxes that will have 4G-connected cameras installed alongside to record the barn owls’ activities and breeding success, with Bird Life Australia showing interest in conducting survey work once they are in action.

Kangaroo Island Landscape Board explains how barn owls will help with its feral cat eradication project.

A perch installed on the front of the nest box is designed to help fledgling owls practice their flying techniques – and provide an ideal photography spot.

Nest box work is being supported by a Kangaroo Island Grassroots grant, after local farmer Peter Atkinson saw it happening in the Marna Banggara project on Yorke Peninsula and raised the idea with the KILB.

Atkinson owns Wallaby Run on the Dudley Peninsula and said diseases carried by feral cats are costing him more than $50,000 a year in lamb losses and meat condemned by abattoirs.

“Apply this to all the sheep enterprises on Kangaroo Island and there is a lot of money being lost due to feral cats,” he said.

KILB feral cat eradication officer Emily Reynolds has worked with the Yorke Peninsula project that uses barn owl nest boxes – and is now helping make it happen on Kangaroo Island.

“The data gathered showed the owls were capable of bringing back over 25 mice to one box each night,” she said.

“By providing barn owls with nest boxes out on the Dudley, we could encourage their presence in our feral cat eradication area and provide them with greater breeding opportunities in areas where hollow-bearing trees are quite scarce”.

Dudley Peninsula escaped fierce bushfires that destroyed native vegetation on other parts of Kangaroo Island in 2019 – making it easier for feral cats in those areas to feed on birds and native animal that have lost important shelter.

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