BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Dr. Richard Raid is a plant pathologist. He works at the University of Florida Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade.
He's making his rounds on the property. But he's not checking on plants. Instead, he's climbing a ladder to check on dozens of boxes.
Inside one box is a barn owl mother with her young nestled in a dark corner.
"Those facial dish, what we call facial dish that surround their eyes, are like a dish antenna and that funnels sound into their ears, which are right behind their eyes, and actually their ears are just a little bit offset -- one is higher than the other -- so they actually hear in 3D," Raid told WPTV.
That 3D ability helps barn owls find their food.
"Each one of those chicks could eat three to four rats per night," Raid said.
The rodents are a problem for farmers.
"Sugar cane and some of our sweet corn, and so they feed on those crops," Raid said.
Years ago, Raid started researching barn owls and discovered they could help control the amount of rodents on a farm. His project caught on.
"I went back and I looked at some economic data on the amount of rat damage, back when some studies were done, and it's estimated that over $30 million, just due to rats on sugar cane on an annual basis," Raid explained.
Here at the University of Florida research property, there are 648 acres and about 42 of these boxes on the property with more than 100 barn owls.
Farmers now have similar boxes on their farmland, boxes that, when placed several feet high, will attract barn owls to live.
State Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, said his family's farm has been around for more than half a century.
"You have some damage every year," Roth said. "We try to control it and we're happy that Dr. Richard Raid came up with a better way to do it."
Instead of using toxic chemicals to get rid of the rodents, Raid said, the barn owls are good for the environment.
"The bottom line is, you know, we're trying to figure out ways to do things naturally," Roth said.
Raid has hope for the future.
"I think more and more growers are going to be participating in the program now that they've really seen the benefit," he said.
If anyone has any questions about barn owls, contact Raid at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"In many parts of the U.S., barn owl populations have declined, due primarily to the loss of sustainable nesting habitat, such as barns and ag-structures," he added. "Their propensity to nest in barns is where they derived their name 'barn owl.' What we refer to as a 'cavity nester,' they have a natural curiosity to check out darkened cavities as nesting sites. Old barns frequently offered dark, undisturbed corners."