Where and How to Install a Barn Owl Nesting Box
Barn owls seem to like to nest in a place that they can just swoop into with prey in their beak. Therefore it is not a great idea to hang a box in a dense forest. Make sure it is not in close to human activity or roads.
The best height for a box is between ten to twelve feet off of the ground, on a pole or in a tree, the tree will not be harmed if the box is nailed into it. The roof of the box can be opened by unscrewing the eye screw. Hammer the nails through the wood planks across the back of the box.
Place the box so that the entry hole is facing out toward a clearing, for instance, a garden or yard or meadow area away from strong prevailing winds if possible.
You will know if you have tenants if you see a white coating around the entry hole or regurgitated pellets on the ground. These pellets look like clods of dirt but actually contain all of the things that owls cannot digest which are fur, feathers and bone.
It may or not be obvious when chicks are born in your box. The male hunts continuously from dusk until dawn so when he arrives with dinner, the chicks are very loud. For this reason, donít put an owl nesting box just outside your bedroom window.
Mating season begins sometime in December. The owlets will be nearly grown and ready to practice flying by March. If the first clutch of babies is successful, the parents may chance raising another clutch. This could go into September for the second bunch to be trying their wings out.
The box will have to be cleaned out each year sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Do not touch the box before this time. Do not ever peek into the box. This will frighten the parent away and the chicks will be defenseless. There could still be a family there until late September. Just take out the large eye screw and the door will flap open. It is best to be a little to the side of the box so the contents donít fall all over you. Wear rubber gloves and a handkerchief or mask over your nose to avoid any flying dust or debris.
Nesting boxes can also be mounted on a pole, again, ten to twelve feet off of the ground. The bottom of the pole will have to be secured with cement to keep it stable. The boxes have air holes for circulation. The best place for a pole installation is near trees. This way the fledglings can climb up the nearby tree and wonít necessarily have to go back into the box. It has been recently observed that barn owls really like the pole installation for some reason.
Notice there is no perch on the owl box. Perches will mean death to the nestlings, barn owls do not need a perch at allÖ. predators do. There are indentations under the hole will aid in their entry into the box.
Occasionally a little screech owl may inhabit your box. They are also cavity dwellers. Screech owls are much smaller than barn owls, only about seven inches tall. Their call is a descending string of notes almost like a tune.
About six weeks after the nestlings have been born; they will begin to go outside the box. This is called branching. You may see a fledgling hopping around on branches or floundering around on the ground. This is normal. Good sized fledglings can definitely climb back up the tree using their beaks and talons.
Obviously if the box is mounted on a pole, as they are in most vineyards and commercial farms, they are unable to climb back in. If the baby is small and fuzzy, it will more than likely need help. If it has feathers and seems strong, it may be fine without intervention, especially if there is a tree close by.
If you see an owlet on the ground, make sure your cats or dogs are not in the area. Observe it from afar to make sure it is not sick or injured. If you do pick up an owlet, mark the exact place you found it. There have been many successful attempts to place them back into the nest. The parents will accept it even after being touched by a human.
For more information regarding owl nesting boxes, or if you have a story of owls in your box, call the Administrator, Star Dewar at 707-539-8974
If you see any birds that looks sick, injured or orphaned please call the Kenwood Wildlife Center at 575-1000 or Star Dewar at the number above.