BERKELEY — Barn owls in Berkeley?


Not according to the Berkeley City Council, which on Tuesday night named the barn owl as the "official bird of Berkeley."

"It's a non-toxic, rodent controller and since we are such environmentalists in Berkeley that sounded great," said Councilwoman Betty Olds, who proposed the idea.

City leaders chose the graceful yet ghostly creature to represent the city because barn owls are tolerant of humans, excellent rodent hunters and beautiful if not a little bizarre looking.

"The barn owl is such a character, it matches Berkeley perfectly," Olds said. Believe it or not, there was no opposition Tuesday to bringing the barn owl into Berkeley officialdom.

"People are really quite excited about the barn owl," Olds said. "I was really quite surprised. I guess anything that can eat 13 rats a night no one is going to come out against."

Could we talk about a better mouse trap? The barn owl is able to eat 1.5 times its weight (some have all the luck), dining mostly on rodents.

This is a good thing in Berkeley, which earlier this year closed the Willard Park tot lot for several weeks to oust some unwanted rats. Traps, rather than poisons or pesticides, were used to get rid of the rats, which had found a home in some dense vegetation between the park tennis courts. Then there was talk about bringing in barn owls.


"Having beautiful birds of prey taking care of the rat and mice population is ideal," said Council member Dona Spring who submitted the resolution with Olds. "It's much better than having to put out poison."

A recently formed group called Keep Barn Owls in Berkeley apparently agrees. The group was formed to educate people about the value of the rodent-eating owl.

Olds said she does not expect to see the barn owl on city letterhead or on the Berkeley Web site. But it's likely there will be a framed picture of a barn owl in some city building. "We'll find a place to hang one," she said.

Barn owls are also called monkey-faced owl, ghost owl, church owl (because they nest in church steeples), hissing owl, silver owl, white owl, night owl, rat owl and other names because of their appearance and customs. They have pale faces, long legs and stiff feathers. They do not usually make that much noise, but when they do call out, it's a drawn-out rasping screech, experts said.

Barn owls are adaptable creatures. They usually nest in palm trees, attics and nest boxes, but do not mind caves, wells or thick foliage.

Berkeley is far from the first American city to have an "official city bird." Bakersfield has the American robin. San Francisco chose the California quail, and Santa Monica adopted the brown pelican as its official bird, according to a list of official city birds on the Wikipedia Web site. Oakland does not have an official bird but it "welcomes and embraces all birds," a city spokeswoman said.