10/21/2008

Building a Screech Owl Box

Design
This is an excellent time of the year to build a Screech owl box if you have the time. If you don’t want to build a box there are a zillion owl boxes for sale on the internet. Screech owls move in around March, so Fall and winter is a great time to get the saw and screw out and put a box together. I’m posting two plans that are very similar. Personally I like the second layout a little better because it has the sloped roof. Based on my personal experience with squirrels, I would recommend a larger roof with more of an overhang. I created a larger light weight roof this year that I screwed onto the existing roof. This will make it easier to take the owl box down for repairs as I can just take the larger roof off.

Plan: http://www.shawcreekbirdsupply.com/plans_screech_owl.htm


Plan: http://magazine.audubon.org/backyard/backyard0201.html

Location
As far as placing the owl box goes, you should pick a spot away from human activity and most especially traffic. Screech owls often fly very low which results in car fatalities. Place the box at least 12 feet off the ground if you can. Most articles recommend picking a spot where the owls have a clear flight path to the box. Further recommendations are to remove all brush below the box as owls seem to prefer an open area below the box. I usually remove the brush in Fall and dump all my leaves below the box. This padding may become useful if one of the owlets falls out of the box.

Box mounting
I would HIGHLY recommend getting someone to help you mount the box onto the tree! Working on a ladder with a large object is precarious, trust me. Many people use pulleys to hoist the box up into the tree and I would recommend using this approach. Something that I’ve used very successfully is to create mounting blocks to screw the box onto. Rather than trying to line the box up and screw it directly onto the tree, screw 2x4’s cut the width of your box onto the tree. Make sure that you have a little bit of space at the bottom and screw a piece of lath onto the 2x4. Now you have a little ledge that you can balance the box on while you screw the box onto the 2x4’s. Using this approach also makes it easier to repair the box as your mounting blocks always stay up and you have your holes predrilled.

Protection

Most sites recommend putting some form of predator protection around the box. You can create baffles with metal flashing or you can simply wrap the tree trunk below, above and around the back/sides of the trunk. Last year I only had flashing around the top and bottom and I think the squirrels simply landed on the exposed ‘sides’ and climbed into the box. Squirrels can also very easily drop onto the roof, which is why I recommend a sloped larger roof. There is a down side to adding these protection measures that I need to mention. Owlets are notorious for jumping/falling out of the owl box before they are capable of flying large distances. This seems to be the modus operandi of most owls not only Screech owls and many people collect owlets and take them to rehab centers incorrectly assuming that they were abandoned. Bearing in mind that you’ve added all the squirrel guards it will be next to impossible for the owlets to return to the box. Many sites recommend that you place brush piles or sticks next to a couple of adjacent trees to aid the owlets in climbing up the trees. Obviously once they are off the ground they are less likely to fall prey to critters and the parents will continue feeding them.

Now what?
Once the box is up and you’ve added all the predator/nuisance deterrents add some wood chips to the bottom of the box. Owls may add a few down feathers for comfort, but for the most part they leave the nesting and comfort options to the landlord. I would recommend adding 2-3 inches of wood chips to the bottom of the box.

Now comes the hard part. Waiting patiently to see if anything happens. I am obsessive compulsive about my owl box so I had to add an owlcam to see what’s going on inside. Prior to getting the owlcam I was up on the ladder once a week to check if there was anything going on. This is NOT a very conducive approach to being an owl landlord and if you’re anywhere as curious as I am, then I would recommend getting an owlcam. I would LOVE to hear about your efforts, so please drop me a comment if you have an owl box or if you’re thinking about building or buying one.

11 comments:

daileycathy@yahoo.com said...

Great page!
After 8 years of trying, I finally got an owl. This time I placed the screech owl box on top of a 20' 4x4. after about a month I had a visitor. He or she has been living in the box for about 3 weeks. My only regret was not getting an owl cam in there, before he/she moved in. What's your advice about how or when to put the cam in?
Regards! Dan Dailey in Hawthorne, NJ
my email: daileycathy@yahoo.com

Owlman said...

Hey Dan,

Thanks for popping in. Wow, you have an owl I am jealous. I put up some info regarding my camera and some general guidelines at http://owlbox.blogspot.com/2008/12/which-owlcam-should-i-get.html
The fact that the owl is currently using the box makes it tough. I chased an owl out of my box in late Fall last year and I haven't seen him in the box since then. Based on this experience I would recommend waiting until you're absolutely sure the owl isn't in the box or if you want to be 100% sure then wait until next summer after the nesting season is over.

Based on my research Screech owls often use their winter roosting boxes for nesting in Spring, so it wouldn't be a good idea to chase one out of there. If you decide to go with the Hawk Owl spycam then you can install the camera very quickly, so you may want to order it and then put it in when the owl is definitely not there. Do think there’s any way to tell when the owl is there? Does the owl have a routine that would allow for a quick install?

I am very happy that I have the owl cam as I am a VERY nosey landlord. At least now I’m 100% sure what’s going on in the box at all times. I hope that I get an owl this year. Did you have lots of issues with squirrels? Have the squirrels used the owl box in the new location? Please keep me posted on your progress.

scott said...

If you haven't already, try setting up a second box, don't be afraid of a different design...I had success getting back an owl that had been violently evicted by a mom squirrel and her pups out of an owlbox, it took last year off. I replaced the standard style up a box with a slot entrance (3.25 in x 7.25 in) based losely on owlshack.com.(no I am not affiliated with him in any way shape or form) look at all the experiments with bluebird entrances... the owl is back this year and spends a up to 4-6 hrs a day in the opening on and off squirrels so far seem a bit less interested in the wider opening but who knows.

Owlman said...

Hi Scott,

I am definitely thinking about a second box. Thanks for the info I will look into your suggested design.

Best,

Owlman.

Owlman said...

Scott,

Could you give me the dimesnions you used for your 2nd box please?

Thanks,

Owlman.

J Gregory said...

I have a family of 4 screech owls in my backyard every night,...I put together an owl house made from a water proof(wax impregnated)corrugated box,..it's been up for 5 days and I saw them checking it out tonight. I had not even listed with a realtor nor put a sign out front. I bought another house as a backup, in case they didn't like the one I made. Will see if they like the homemade one or the store bought.

J Gregory said...

I have a family of 4 screech owls in my backyard every night,...I put together an owl house made from a water proof(wax impregnated)corrugated box,..it's been up for 5 days and I saw them checking it out tonight. I had not even listed with a realtor nor put a sign out front. I bought another house as a backup, in case they didn't like the one I made. Will see if they like the homemade one or the store bought.

Don Hoke said...

We had what I think is a screech owl set up in a pecan tree outside my home office. He was there for a couple of days, then disappeared. The next evening I found him in the car port when I came home. He returned to his favorite tree but I have not seen him since.

I am thinking of putting up an owl box, but my bat house has been up for six years with no inhabitants.

Yes, I have a huge oak tree in the back and lots of squirrels who like peanut butter in their temporary homes on the way to the municipal golf course.

Any advice?

Best wishes!

Don
Virtual Steam Car Museum

Bama said...

My grandson built me a duck box at school but I knew I would probably never get a duck to come to it. I told him I would mount it on a metal post about 12-15 feet high and would try to attract an owl. It is located in a small clearing among some planted pines. Lo and behold after about a year I saw a screech owl peering out the 3" opening. I will be putting up a store-bought box later this month, November 2012. We are so happy to have an owl to have found it so soon.

Lise said...

We have had a screech owl set up housekeeping in the roof rafters of our home under construction this past summer. He (she) did this before the house was sheathed in. Now that the sheathing is up, we keep the door open so the owl can come and go. Any advice on convincing this owl to leave our roof rafters for an outdoor home if I construct an owl box as you describe on your site? Thanks!

Owlman said...

Hi Lise,

My recommendation would be to put an owlbox up ASAP as nesting season starts in Spring. Once you have an owlbox up you can close up door to the rafters as the owl should take up residence in the new home.

Best,

Owlman.