I’m learning about owls. My interest has been propelled by the regular nightly call of a male tawny owl. He seems to be much more vocal than the female because I’m not sure I’ve heard her calling back….
However, what I’m now listening out for is the screeching call of a barn owl. I’m very keen that they should join the nightly cacophony. With this in mind, we’ve decided to build barn owl boxes. I’ve put this in the plural because it was my intention to have a few. However, I’ve only managed to identify one suitable site for a barn owl box.
The Barn Owl Trust is full of information on how to set up an ideal nesting site. You may not be surprised to hear that the best option is a nest in a barn. I found a place that I thought would be ideal. It’s in the apex of the roof in our long barn – with open doorways on both sides. Love the idea of the birds sweeping in the doorways and up to their perch. The trouble is that they won’t… The small print explaining about their ideal nesting site explains that the birds like to be able to see a visible hole that they can enter, that’s at least 3 metres from the ground. We might put a box there, but it’s extremely unlikely that any owls would ever see it.
The second best option is in a tree. But not in woodland area. The tree should be visible from open land and with a hole facing outwards. You then hope that an owl will be flying past and spot your cosy nesting box. This is what we’re going to try. It’s going to be made from old floor boards, as I’m very keen to use up materials I’ve already got on site.
Now, I’m looking at the various designs. I like the triangular ones, but the Barn Owl Trust has an excellent video showing the best designs and I’m going to take their advice. They explain that the nest should be large, deep and waterproof. The fledglings need to be able to walk and stretch, inside the box – and not be able to get out until they’re ready to fly. They also need a small platform on the outside, so if their siblings push them out of the hole before they’re ready, they don’t fall to their death…
If you can’t put a box in a barn or up a tree, you could try putting one on a post. That’s the third best option – and if our first box is successful, we might try that. We’ve got some telegraph poles, supporting a slack line, that could be suitable.
Next thing to consider is what barn owls like to eat. Voles seem to be top of their menu requirements. And, voles like rough grass. Not ploughed fields, not woodland areas, not finely mown ares but grass that’s been left for more than a season. The voles build their nest in the old under-layer of grass – making balls of hay. To make it really easy for the owls, you need to make sure that they can fly over and swoop down on the voles and other rodents, without being impeded by too many trees.
We have the ideal field with a footpath running through it. It’s got mounds, rough grass, a thick hedge on all sides and enough room for the owls to scoop up their grub.
The box is being built. It will be installed in the Spring. How exciting it will be if a barn owl family takes up residence. I’ll be learning a lot more about owls close up and will post an update next year.