January 14th, 2015

By Jon Wogen, “used by permission of the Renville County Register”.

Screech Owl

The Screech Owl is one of those that can live with people the best. Many years ago I awoke one morning to hear funny noises and “whining” out on my balcony. I went to the window and looked out at four baby Screech Owls and their parents sitting on the railing of the balcony. That was really cool to see and hear.

Since that time, most old trees around the area have been cut down. Most of them were elms that had started to die and rot, providing many nesting possibilities for the small owls. The owls have not returned since all of those trees were lost.

But, we have a cure for the missing dead hollow trees. A Screech Owl nesting box can be placed by you in your healthy trees to mimic a hollow dead tree for those owls. We just may get some of them to come back into town for our entertainment.

There is a plan attached to this column that is easily built. It can be cut out from a single 1inch by 10 inch board eight feet long. There is little waste when done this way.

Most plans for this type of nest box show a hinged roof for clean out. I prefer a hinged side to open for clean out. The side-opening makes it easier for you to reach from a ladder for cleaning the nest box. You don’t have to climb quite so high with this style. One should put at least two inches of wood chips (not sawdust) in the bottom of the Screech Owl nest box. Cleaning the box each year helps to prevent disease and parasites that can harm the baby birds.

Cut a three inch opening centered about 11 and-a-half inches above the bottom of the front board. Inside the front board, below the opening, a piece of steel hardware cloth about three inches or so wide should be stapled on. It should extend to a couple of inches off bottom. This will aid in the baby owls being able to climb out of the box when the time arrives for them to leave the nest.

There should be a couple of half inch holes drilled in the sides to allow heat to escape the nest box in hot weather. Air flow will also help to dry the box out. There should be four half inch holes in the corners of the bottom board also, for drainage, if driven rain gets into the box. It also provides for ventilation to dry out wet bedding so molds and things don’t grow there.

It is not a bad idea to rough up the area below the hole so the owls claws can grab the wood better. No perches are necessary and those things often attract more pest birds than good ones.

You may find that screws are better for building bird nest boxes as the wood warps and moves when wet and then dries out. That can pull nails out of the wood so the house gets weaker and can fall apart. We use drywall screws of proper length to get a good grip on the wood it is screwed into.

Lug screws can be used to hold the nest box in the tree. A pilot hole for the lag screws can be drilled into the tree to make it easier to screw into the wood.

Be very careful in hanging the Screech Owl nest box in the tree. You should be above the ten foot height and above 15 feet is even better. That is a long way to fall off a ladder. We value our readers so don’t want anyone to get hurt trying to help our native owls. Two hands need to be used to hold the house in place and to place the lug screws in to hold it up there. Maybe a belt attached to the ladder is not a bad idea. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a bucket lift truck to help you to go up into the tree?

Once placed in the tree the fun begins. Observing the nest box over time will be rewarding and frustrating at times. Some “bad species” may try to nest in the box. Starlings love hole nesting sites. You may have to go up the ladder several times to eliminate nests of undesirable birds. This bird house will attract the Saw-Whet owl and the Kestrel (sparrow hawk) also. Both of them will be desirable to have in your yard. But, you certainly don’t want to provide a nesting site for starlings.

If you get lucky and get owls, you will have a thrill just watching the events going on there. Have a notebook handy and document the events going on up there in the tree and the bird behaviour that happens there.

This could be a wonderful project for 4-H, Girl and Boy Scouts, and Church Youth Groups, or just a good old fashioned nature lover.Screech Owl Bird House


Sven quotes President Ronald Reagan again today: “Government’s first duty is to protect people, not run their lives.”

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