Owls are fascinating birds and there are many different species with the tawny owl and the barn owl, the most common varieties in the UK. Because owls are birds of prey unless you live in the countryside or in a similar area which attracts a good population of rodents, such as in an area with a good amount of rough grassland nearby, it’s unlikely that an owl will take up roost in your garden. However, if your surrounding environment is suitable or you’re aware that owls do, indeed, frequent the area in which you live, it’s worth providing an additional nesting site in your garden if you want to attract them. If you’ve a large garden or have acres of land, it’s useful to leave some grassy areas unmown as this will attract rodents as it provides cover but is also a good hunting ground for owls. Also keep grassy edges alongside hedges and ditches unkempt and provide lookout posts for the owls to perch on.
Nest Box Construction
The more room you can include in your nest box construction, the greater the chance of an owl setting up its nesting area within it and if you can include a second room or chamber which features perches for adult owls, it will become even more attractive. Remember that if you include room for perches, you should not put a bottom on the area underneath the perch. This way it will prevent droppings from building up.
Owl boxes are constructed according to the type of owl you’re looking to attract. Tawny owls prefer to nest in hollow tree branches so their boxes are tube-shaped in design. Little owl boxes are long and contain a hole at the top and barn owl boxes tend to be large and square or sometimes triangular, featuring a ledge on the outside of the entrance which young owls can stand on. With all the boxes, you should ensure you have one side which can be removed or opened to allow you to clean it once the young fledglings have left the nest.
Positioning Your Box
Again, this varies with the species. A tawny owl box should be situated on a tree at a 45 degree angle. If you have several trees in a row, position your box on one of the trees on the outside at either end of the row. A little owl box should be placed on a tree about 3 metres from the ground. For a barn owl, however, its box should be placed on a solitary tree close to woodland about 3 to 5 metres off the ground. In all cases, you should make sure the entrance to the box is not facing any prevailing wind as it makes it easier for the adult owls to get to and from the box and also ensures that the chicks stay warm.
As with all birds, make sure you don’t clean the box before the fledglings have left. This usually occurs around September or October. A word of caution – tawny owls can get pretty aggressive if you disturb them whilst their young are still in the nest so be careful. You should wear rubber gloves and a dust mask when you’re cleaning the box as you might find dead rodents which can carry diseases, some of which can be harmful to humans and owl pellets containing undigested bits of prey. You should thoroughly disinfect the area using a solution of water and bleach and, once the box has been emptied and cleaned, you can put down a new, fresh layer of wood shavings in the nest area. On a cautionary note, some bees and wasps will see an owl box as a great place to take up refuge so be sure none are present before you clean it. Unlike some other birds, barn owls can start looking for nesting sites as early as December so you should carry out your routine maintenance before then. November is usually a good month to do this.
It’s not that common to find owls taking up nesting areas in gardens but as long as you do your research and have established the appropriate environment, you never know, you might just get lucky!