Did you know that a family of ‘peneireiro-vulgar’ (kestrels) can eat up to 20 kg of rats during the breeding season? A single one of these small hawks can eat up to three rats a day, consuming more than 1,000 rats a year.
So, that’s rats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Who would have thought anybody would find rodents so delicious? But to each his own, and it sounds to me like these flying ‘rat traps’ would make great neighbours.
But where are they all going to live? Unfortunately, factors like the change of habitat, the intensification of agriculture, the use of pesticides and the loss of nesting sites has meant that populations of these birds, along with many others, have been in decline. And, even though some are known to make their homes on balconies and rooftops, our towns and cities just aren’t very hospitable for birdlife.
This is a shame for many reasons. One of them being that, as I said before, birds are natural ‘pesticides’, and even smaller birds like the various types of colourful ‘chapins’ (great tits), as well as ‘poupas’ (hoopoes) and ‘estorninhos’ (European starlings) are also very helpful as they eat various kinds of pests, including the ‘lagartas do pinheiro’ or ‘processionária’ (pine processionary caterpillars). You know the ones? They follow each other in long lines or ‘processions’, and not only are they destructive for the pine trees, their urticating hair is harmful for us, and other mammals and can cause quite severe rashes.
Hoopoe. Singing bird.
These birds however, think of them like a slightly bristly spaghetti and when they are peckish - peck them up no problem. This is why I don’t think anybody in Quinta do Lago minded too much when, in addition to putting up 30 ‘bug hotels’ (boxes with lots of little holes in that buzzy creatures can ‘check into’), the environmental association ‘Vita Nativa’ (based in Olhão) also put up 60 bird boxes along their golf courses last September.
But they didn’t stop there. Vita Nativa, in collaboration with the ‘Instituto de Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas’ (ICNF), won the ‘Orçamento Participativo Nacional’ in 2018 for their ‘Alojamento Local para Aves’ (local lodging for birds) initiative, and after months of careful planning and building, the initiative, as Vita Nativa like to say, “já voa” (is now flying). The project finally got ‘off the ground’ a few months ago, and if you have ‘eagle eyes’ their bird boxes can be spotted in trees (as well as attached to telephone poles and abandoned buildings) in parks and green spaces all across the Algarve. So far they’ve put them in the councils of Loulé, Albufeira, Lagoa, Olhão, Silves, Castro Marim and the latest council to have found space for some feathery friends is Lagos.
Vita Nativa plans to put up a total of 2000 of these boxes, of various different shapes and sizes - not only for the birds I already mentioned, but also for ‘andorinhões” (swifts), the ‘mocho-galego’ (the little owl) and the ‘coruja-das-torres’ (barn owl). It seems that if we can cohabit with these night owls as well - there will be no escape for the rats even after dark.
Vita Nativa hopes to not only create safe spots for these birds to live harmoniously with us, which is just nice, but it also has the added bonus of providing us with a natural pest control service and, importantly - should help increase the populations of all these species by giving any would-be ‘love birds’ a safe place to raise a family.
Everybody’s excited to know what will happen come spring and whether they will get any tenants move into these swanky new ‘treehouse apartments’. If you are interested in keeping up with the progress, then follow the Associação Vita Nativa on Facebook, or visit their website Vitanativa.org. (If you get confused - they are the ones with the beautiful dragonfly logo.)