Clair Kauffman spends lots of time cultivating some 35,000 trees and harvesting cherries, peaches, plums, pears and apples on the 100 acres Kauffman Fruit Farm in Ronks, Pa. But to assure quality fruit each growing season, he also spends a lot of time in an on-going battle with voles, mice and rodent pests that threaten his crop.

Kauffman works to maintain an ecological balance working with natural allies like Barn Owls and American Kestrels to control these evasive pests and he provides the birds with a safe habitat for breeding and hunting. It’s all part of Kauffman’s and other Pennsylvania farms’ pest management programs.

“It’s a balancing act as we try to reach equilibrium between man and nature,” Kauffman says. “Our owl and kestrels are a big part of keeping our orchards’ numerous pests — including meadow and pine voles, mice and rodents — under control.”

The farm has dealt with destructive meadow voles for years, Kauffman explains. “They eat fruit tree bark and can girdle a tree killing it. Recently, we have seen a big increase in pine voles that actually dig down into the soil and nibble at a fruit tree’s roots, which also kills the tree.”

The Kauffmans support the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s research and data collection on the life cycle of barn owls and kestrels. 

In late June, PGC Biologist Dan Mummert, working with Hawk Mountain Field Technician Mercy Melo, led an educational program at the Kauffman Orchard that was attended by nearly 100 adults and children who were fascinated with the young owlets and kestrel chicks.

Mummert and Melo banded three owlets and three American Kestrel chicks from nesting boxes amidst Kauffman’s acres of fruit trees and educated the audience on what is being done to stop the decline of these valuable hunting birds.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance correspondent and photojournalist in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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