Owls are a fascinating topic for many people, and the International Festival of Owls is recognizing two individuals who have made a difference for owls in their respective regions and around the world.
Dr. Paula Enriquez of Chiapas, Mexico, and Dr. Richard Raid of the University of Florida are receiving awards in March for their work in making the world a better place for owls.
Enriquez is being recognized for her 25 years of owl research and collaboration in Central and South America. Her work has earned her the prestigious Champion of Owls award at the International Festival of Owls in Houston, Minn., from March 1-3.
Working predominantly in Mexico but also in Costa Rica and now Colombia, Enriquez has studied no fewer than 15 species of owls and has worked to engage others in the cooperative study of owls. She organized the first and second symposia on neotropical owls held in Peru and Costa Rica, and started an online working group for researchers, students, and the general public to share information.
Enriquez’s research has focused primarily on ecology and conservation, but she also recognizes the importance of reaching out to and engaging with the general public. Her studies of the bearded screech owl resulted in the International Union for Conservation of Nature reclassifying it from merely Near Threatened to the more precarious Vulnerable status, which provides the species with more protection. She has published 40 scientific papers on owls, 22 book chapters, 42 outreach papers, and has done at least 38 presentations to reach both scientific and general audiences.
Without a doubt Enriquez is the leading expert on owls in Mexico. Perhaps her best known accomplishment is editing a major book published in both Spanish and English, “Los búhos neotropicales: diversidad y conservación” in 2015 and reprinted in English in 2017 as “Neotropical Owls: Diversity and Conservation.” This 670-page tome addresses systematics, diversity, research, threatened species, and conservation strategies in each country. It was an enormous undertaking that involved working closely with other owl authorities. Enriquez and her colleagues are now developing a guidebook to Colombian owls.
Dr. Richard Raid has helped make the ecosystems around the Florida Everglades healthier with help from local students and farmers.
Raid primarily works as a plant pathologist at the University of Florida, but his passion is the Barn Owl Project. This project has earned him a Special Achievement Award from the World Owl Hall of Fame.
The idea of using barn owls as biological pest control in the Everglades Agricultural Area came from a high school science fair project in 1994, and has now involved thousands of students from elementary school through college in building owl nest boxes and dissecting owl pellets. Two college students have even completed their Master’s degrees through the Barn Owl Project.
Raid also engages farmers in the project and as a result sugarcane companies sometimes pay for the construction materials for nest boxes. Farmers near the Everglades are saving millions of dollars in crop damage from rodents every year, thanks to barn owls.
While the project started with only a few dozen pairs of owls, there are now more than 400 pairs, and a staggering 80 percent of nest boxes are occupied. Besides increasing the population of owls in that area, it also has greatly reduced the use of rodenticides, which helps owls and many other predators.
Faced with invasive Africanized honeybees invading the owl nest boxes, Raid has also developed effective methods to get the bees out of the boxes and into hives where they can be captured. This technique helps more than just owls, since these bees also attack humans.
Raid participated in the first international conference that focused on using barn owls as pest control and is currently helping to write a field manual on the subject. His passion will likely continue to make a significant positive impact on owls, farmers, students and the environment for years to come.
The World Owl Hall of Fame is sponsored by the International Owl Center, Global Owl Project, and Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter. More information can be found at www.festivalofowls.com.