Attracting kestrels to orchards could create jobs

(Credit: Charlesjshap via Wikimedia Commons)

Fierce little raptors called American kestrels can boost the bottom lines of fruit-growing states in their range, research shows. It’s the first study ever to measure regional job creation due to native predators’ regulating services.

American kestrels range from Alaska to southernmost South America. They dine on bugs, mammals, and fruit-eating birds. Growers can attract more of these beneficial birds by building nesting boxes. Because more kestrels mean fewer pests, the birds’ mere presence can produce measurable improvements, says Catherine Lindell, an integrative biologist at Michigan State University and coauthor of the study in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

“Having more American kestrels around orchards reduces the number of fruit-eating birds significantly,” she says. “It’s not just a microeconomic boost that simply benefits the fruit grower, either; it has a macroeconomic effect that benefits the state’s economy.”

Lindell and her team calculated the benefit-to-cost ratios for building kestrel nest boxes around orchards. The results showed that every dollar spent, $84 to $357 of sweet cherries are saved from fruit-eating birds.

To scale up their projections, the team used regional economic modeling. These models predicted that increased sweet cherry production from reduced bird damage would generate 46 to 50 jobs, which translates to a major contribution to Michigan’s economy.

“This research shows that farmers can use science to design agricultural fields that benefit people and wildlife,” says Betsy Von Holle, a program director for the National Science Foundation Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program, which funded the research. “Fruit-eating birds avoid orchards with American kestrels, so orchards with kestrel nest boxes end up producing more cherries.

“If building kestrel nest boxes were applied more widely, the researchers estimate that would benefit Michigan by adding new jobs and more than $2 million in increased revenue over a five-year period.”

Building boxes, though, doesn’t always guarantee a booming kestrel population, says first author Megan Shave, an integrative biology graduate student at Michigan State.

“Box occupancy rates will undoubtedly vary,” she says. “However, installation and maintenance costs of boxes are small and, even if box occupancy rates are low, they can direct kestrel activity to particular places in agricultural landscapes where they can deter pest birds.”

How to turn an office park into raptor habitat

Even though birds comprise just 2 percent of kestrels’ diets, just having the feathery enforcers in the area keeps many fruit eaters out of orchards. These improvements give growers another more-sustainable option to conventional pesticide-based crop protection, Lindell adds.

In a previous paper, Lindell and her team reviewed other studies that demonstrated that birds—as well as bats—can contribute to a region’s economy. In Jamaica, for example, attracting birds that ate a persistent coffee pest saved an estimated $18 to $126 per acre annually.

Researchers from the USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center did the economic analyses for the study.

Source: Michigan State University