This guest post comes from Chantal Brown, ecologist with Wildlife World. Chantal has a degree in Environmental Biology and Zoology, BASIS Soil and Water Management certificate and BASIS Agronomy foundation award, as well as a Barn Owl license which allows its holders to observe barn owns in their nesting places to provide information for development proposals.
Owls are elusive, stunning birds of prey. Anyone who has experienced the joy of encountering an owl at close proximity will always mention their eerily silent flight and majestic beauty, even if only a glance was caught.
For those who are fortunate to have gardens that back onto farmland or woodland, autumn and winter are the best time to put up an owl box. At this time, owls will be searching for sites to nest and if you are really, really lucky, they may use the box to nest this spring.
For the very best chance choose a nest box that provides the correct features to suit the birds needs. Wildlife World owl nest boxes have been designed with recommendations from the Barn Owl Trust and using expert knowledge of licensed barn owl workers and offer a safe and suitable nest site for breeding owls.
It’s really important to consider the position of the box and best to get expert advice before you site it. Barn owls, for example are particularly vulnerable to being hit by traffic because of their low level hunting style, so they should not be encouraged to nest within ½ mile of major roads.
They are birds of open countryside and not woodland, so barn owl boxes should be positioned on a tree in a hedgerow, on a tree in the open or in a building or barn or at the very outside edge of woodland. There should be clear flight path to the box, which needs to be positioned 2.5m-5m off the ground, ideally facing east.
If you already have an owl nest box, the best time of year to clean out the box is in the winter, between November and the end of December and should be done an hour before sunset so that if a bird is flushed out the box (which you should avoid if at all possible), the bird has minimal time in daylight.
When clearing out the box, don’t use any chemicals, just a wire brush to remove 75% of the debris. This is also the perfect time to put a wildlife camera in your owl box. Ensure the camera is far enough away from the chicks that there will not be too much heat projected onto young chicks that could lead to the chicks perishing.
Barn owls are protected species (Schedule 1 Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981); and you need a license to disturb them at the nest in the breeding season. Therefore maintenance and inspection should only be carried out in late autumn and early winter. It is worth being a member of the Barn Owl Trust or other local owl groups, who have licensed workers who can help with surveys and advice.
If you live in an urban environment, putting up an owl box may lead to squirrels or jackdaws moving in. Owls require quite large territories, so if you are a distance from a woodland or farmland, you should join up with a local owl group to learn more about these elegant birds, or enjoy walks across farmland at dusk and dawn when you are most likely to see an owl hunting.
Owls rely on a healthy population of small mammals for food, and many farmers manage wildflower margins to encourage these. Gardeners can plant mini meadows and grow native wildflowers to encourage better biodiversity in their gardens and support all types of garden wildlife.