Serbian Town Moves to Protect Winter Owls
The townsfolk of Kikinda in northeast Serbia have welcomed an unlikely intruder into their midst, even decreeing stiff fines for anyone who dares disturb the peace of the long-eared owls that have made this their winter refuge.
Officials said Friday that a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($13,000) will be payable for disturbing the 700-odd birds that find shelter in the town's central treetops from November to May.
"Long-eared owls are a protected species... and a symbol of our town," head of the local tourist bureau Marijana Ilicin told Agence France Presse.
The decree bans public gatherings or the erection of luminous signs near the trees where the owls spend their winter months.
During spring and summer, they return to the plains near the town of some 40,000 people.
Long-eared owls are generally solitary animals and it is uncommon for them to spend time in cities or close to people.
The decree also bans the cutting of trees on the sites where owls reside. Even shouting or loud music near the birds are punishable.
"We had more owls before and we must do everything to keep them safe as they are a natural rarity," said local environment official Ljiljana Milekic.
Nature experts estimate some 30,000 owls spend the winter at around 450 sites around Serbia, mainly in the northern Vojvodina province known for its biodiversity.
Kikinda, a quiet town in central Vojvodina, has declared November the "Month of Owls" to mark the unusual migration of these rare birds to the town.
Long-eared owls, named for the upright appendages with their decorative tufts, live in Europe, North America and across Asia. In many countries, including Serbia, they are a protected species, inhabiting open forests and plains.
In Serbia, many farmers provide them makeshift shelters, because, as fierce predators, the owls help them get rid of field pests.