How the American kestrel could help economies soar

| 23rd May 2018

 American kestrel box near Michigan cherry orchard in December 2015

The predatory activity of America's smallest raptor could lead to more jobs and a welcome boost to the economies of a number of states according to a new study. CATHERINE HARTE reports

It’s not just a microeconomic boost that simply benefits the fruit grower - it has a macroeconomic effect that benefits the state’s economy.

The American kestrel - the country’s smallest raptor - could prove to be a significant economy booster, according to new research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The birds dine on - among other things - fruit-eating birds. Introducing more kestrels to the country's fruit fields would mean fewer birds and less damage done to crops in farming states such as Michigan.

In the first study to measure regional job creation aided by the activity of native predators, researchers concluded the tiny hawks’ mere presence can produce measurable improvements as more kestrels mean fewer pests.

Macro benefit

Betsy Von Holle, a program director for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program, which funded the research, said: “This research demonstrates that farmers can use science to design agricultural fields that benefit people and wildlife.”

Catherine Lindell, a Michigan State University (MSU) integrative biologist and her team, calculated the benefit-to-cost ratios of installing kestrel nest boxes around orchards. The results showed that for every dollar spent, $84 to $357 of sweet cherries are saved from fruit-eating birds.

To scale up the projections, the team used regional economic modelling. The 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.

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

Feathered enforcers

Von Holle added: “Fruit-eating birds avoid orchards with American kestrels, so those with kestrel nest boxes end up producing more cherries. If kestrel nest boxes were used more widely, these researchers estimate, Michigan would benefit by adding new jobs and more than $2 million in increased revenue over a five-year period.”

The strategy isn’t limited solely to Michigan cherry producers. It’s a potential boon for fruit producers throughout the kestrels’ range, and is a cost-effective ecosystem service, the scientists said.

Megan Shave, an MSU integrative biologist and first author of the journal paper, said:  "Though building nest boxes doesn’t always guarantee a booming kestrel population, 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 kestrels can deter birds that are fruit pests.”

Although birds make up only 2 percent of kestrels’ diets, just having the feathered enforcers in the area keeps many fruit-eating avian species out of orchards. These improvements give fruit growers another, more sustainable option to conventional pesticide-based crop protection, Lindell said.

This Author

Catherine Harte is a contributing editor of The Ecologist. This story is based on a news release from the National Science Foundation. Read the full report here

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