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Building an owl nesting house

Give owls a home and they'll reward you by eating rodents

In Indian folklore, owls represent many things: wisdom, helpfulness, the underworld, and the power of prophecy. But, on a farm, they’re pretty practical because they catch mice and other vermin. They live in the cavities of old, hollow trees, but do appreciate a homemade nest to raise their young.

Stephen Kress is the vice president of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society. He says when it comes to owls, one size of nesting box does not fit all.  You have to know what breed you have around, or the bird will ignore your effort.  For instance, a barn owl prefers a different size than a screech owl.

"The floor of the barn owl box should be 10"-18" and the depth of the box should be 15"-18" so there's some flexibility there depending on materials a person might have," says Kress. "The entrance should be about 4" above the floor. The screech owl is smaller and it would require a smaller box."

At least they're not picky about the building material. Rough-cut wood like pine suits the owls just fine. They'd also like wood chips on the bottom so they have a comfortable place to sit.

Mount the box on a tree with a large trunk. Once again, the kind of owl you're trying to attract dictates how high up it has to be.

"The barn owl, generally 12'-18' off the ground and a barred owl, which is a forest nesting owl likes it a little higher, 15'-20' off the ground," says Kress. "Screech owls vary a lot in the height they'll nest, as low as 10' off the ground but they'll nest up 30'."

Clean the boxes out at least once a year and removed soiled nesting. And watch out for other renters: squirrels might move in, or honeybees and yellow jackets will take over the box.

Find more tips for building owl nesting boxes

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