Creating Owl Boxes: How To Build An Owl House
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By: Teo Spengler
If owls live in your area, building and installing an owl box might attract a pair to your backyard. Some common owl species, like barn owls, are ferocious predators of mice and other rodent pests, so it makes sense to invite them into the neighborhood by installing an owl house. Read on for tips on owl house design.
Owl House Design
Your owl box plans do not need to be fancy to be effective, but you’ll need to figure out how to build an owl house that is the right size to be a nest-substitute for the type of owl you hope to attract the garden. Obtain information on the size of the owl species before you begin your owl box plans.
For barn owls, a simple wooden box about 38 by 18 by 12 inches (1 by .5 by .3 m.) provides adequate room for a pair of owls and their young. For other species, the size will vary. Always use untreated wood such as fir, cedar or pine.
Your owl house design must include an entrance opening located some 6 inches (15 cm.) above the base of the box. For barn owls, this can be a square about 6 by 7 inches (15 by 17 cm.) or an ellipse with a horizontal axis of 4 ½ inches (11.5 cm.) and a vertical axis of 3 ¾ inches (9.5 cm.) depending on your owl house design. Don’t forget to include drain holes in the owl box plans.
It is very important that the owl nest box is built solidly. You don’t want it to fall apart after a family of owls moves into it. Correct owl nest box placement is also essential.
Owl Nest Box Placement
Take the time to install your owl box appropriately. Attach it solidly to a stable post, the rafters of a barn, a tall tree, a barn wall, or any other handy structure. Consider placement when creating owl boxes so that you can include whatever attachments are necessary.
In the ideal owl nest box placement, the box will be located near an open field so that the owls can glide directly into the box from hunting. You should face the entrance hole toward the north to prevent the sun from heating up the box.
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Attract Great Horned Owls to your yard with nest box
This owl, the Great Horned Owl, is probably the most familiar of owls in North America. The deep resonant hooting on cold calm winter nights is familiar to many.
Great Horned Owls are widely distributed throughout North and South America. They are absent only from the Arctic tundra, parts of the Amazon Basin, and the pampas grasslands.
Nearly wherever you live in mainland United States you have Great Horned Owls near you.
Would you like to attract them to your yard more frequently? Read on!
What makes your yard attractive to Great Horned Owls?
These large predators hunt by perching and waiting for prey to scurry by. Then they swoop in silently to attack. They thus need trees or poles for perching. They need some open rough grass or other open areas. They may be more common in second growth forests with edges and openings. But they are common from forests to farmlands to cities.
To attract Great Horned Owls to your yard requires that your property is large and has big trees and open space. It should also abut similar properties or undeveloped areas, woods, farmlands, or grasslands.
There may be good reasons not to attract Great Horned Owls into your yard, though. They are fierce predators. They will hunt small prey such as squirrels and mice. They will hunt larger prey such as rabbits, grouse, and skunks. They hunt and eat all other owls! They will hunt housecats and even small dogs, up to about 15 pounds. So make sure that this large owl will be welcome on your property before enticing them into becoming full time residents.
You can provide nest boxes and platforms to attract Great Horned Owls. I'll discuss that after discussing natural nests.
Exterior barn owl boxes
Exterior barn owl nestboxes can be fixed to trees or to the outside of buildings.
Where possible, they should face onto grassland and be reasonably conspicuous with an open flight path to them. They should not face into the prevailing wind.
Although barn owl nests are usually well spaced out, placing boxes in pairs, from twenty to a few hundred metres apart, will provide a pair with roosting as well as nesting sites. The male and female roost separately, and some pairs use different boxes in those good years when they can have two broods.
Since many barn owls are killed by road traffic, it is best not to put up owl boxes close to motorways and main roads.
Barn owls are specially protected by law, and so it is illegal to disturb them close to their nest. Occupied nests - even your box - should only be visited by someone who holds a licence.
Make an exterior nestbox
As you make up the A-frame box, attach a 200 x 485mm piece of rough-sawn timber to the inside of the back panel. The fixing to the tree will go through this reinforcement. Don’t attach the front panel until the box is hung up.
You can print a plan for an external barn owl nestbox here.
Why You Should Attract Owls
The haunting, magical sound of an evening owl call isn't the only benefit of attracting these nocturnal creatures to your land. Owls dine on a smorgasbord of voles, mice, and other rodents that can pester urban or suburban homeowners, as well as large insects that can wreak havoc on your garden.
Orchard and vineyard operators have long appreciated owls because they don't have to add them to the payroll in exchange for all of the birds' hard work. Farmers can opt out of using pesticides to kill vermin and other scourges by inviting rodent- and insect-eating owls onto their properties. According to American Fruit Grower, a family of barn owls will scarf down an amazing several thousand rodents during a nesting season — with the young eating two to four rodents a night!
While barn owls rank very high in the rodent-control category, other owl species can also knock down the number of mice, voles, and other pests in your neighborhood. The one that's easiest to attract is the screech owl, says Bancroft. Breeding season runs from mid-March through mid-May, depending on where you live in the country, and screech owls will readily move into properly placed owl boxes if trees with nesting holes are unavailable.
Great horned owls also reside in many neighborhoods, though some people don't go out of their way to attract them because they will hunt rabbits and small cats, according to Bancroft.
What makes your yard attractive to Barred Owls?
The typical habitat of Barred Owls includes mature deciduous or mixed woods. Locations can include canyon streams with big trees, wooded ponds, even forests with a closed canopy hiding the sky and more open underneath. They occur in wooded parks in towns, but especially river edge forests.
They stay deep in the wet woods on big limbs in the shadowed canopy under the big trees.
Does this sound like your backyard? If so, and you live in the regions mentioned above, you may be able to attract Barred Owls to your yard!
There should be nearby woods for these owls to hunt in that remain dark at night. There should not be too much people and machinery noise during the day. To keep the owls safe from vehicles, don't put owl boxes too near a busy highway.
Barred Owls are large predators. They have been known to kill and eat housecats. It is possible that a nesting owl may attack small dogs. Such a thing would be very rare for this species of owl. But it is something to consider before attracting Barred Owls to be daily residents of your backyard.
This owl doesn't actively go out and fly around seeking your favorite pet as prey. It sits on a perch and waits for small animals to pass by.
Thus, it isn't likely to harm small dogs going outside for a potty break before bed--especially if you turn on the lights. It's not impossible, just not very likely that a Barred Owl would attack your dog.
Cats roaming around at night seeking rodents will put them in the path of hunting owls, though.
Barred Owls have been known to fly at or strike people in the head with their claws if they get too close to the nest. It seems that early morning joggers in the forest parks are the main victims! Often the owls don't make actual contact. Sometimes they knock people's hats off! Rarely do they draw blood.
Build Your Own Owl House
Give an owl a home
Owl nesting boxes are constructed from standard, tongue and groove pine ceiling boards, on a 30mm x 30mm pine frame. Ask your timber supplier to supply the wood in untreated form, as household timber is normally supplied having been treated with poisonous insect repellent.
The two types of boxes are in essence the same, with the exception that the access hole is restricted to one small hole in the case of the Barn Owl (photograph above left), and large access holes in all four sides in the case of the Spotted Eagle Owl (photograph on right, box on the right). In both cases the bottom of the access holes should be located in such a position that the baby birds cannot fall out of the box.
A small landing area (15cm x 10cm) should be attached to the Barn Owl Box at the base of the access hole.The roof slopes towards the small front in the Barn Owl box, whilst the roof slopes the other way in the case of the Spotted Eagle Owl box. In both cases the roof overhangs the sides by 5cm to give more weather protection. The wood in both types of box is treated on the outside only, with any good lead-free preservative.
As pine needles do not rot, they are found to be the best nesting material with which to cover the base of the box.
If you need help or advice, please contact Gerry Cassidy on +27 (0)28 316 3412 or email [email protected]
BirdLife South Africa appreciates the support from Gerry Cassidy and for allowing the use of his plans.