Thursday, April 7, 2016


I was out on the road for about a week and it’s good to be back at my cabin.  Before I left I made several more screech owl boxes to add to the boxes I’ve already placed strategically around the homestead.  Owls of all sorts are the best non-pesticide method of getting rid of rats on your property.  Besides, there are few night sounds that can compete with the hoots and yodels of owls.  Interestingly, the screech owl does not screech but yodels instead.  In addition, the barn owl screeches; and though both owls can live in barns I think that someone along the line inadvertently switched the names.  The barn owl should be the screech owl and the screech owl should be the barn owl.  That aside, I've had an infatuation with owls since I was a boy.

Screech owls are small and cute.  Their yodels are mesmerizing and when coupled with the whistles of the pauraque they make for a lovely evening chorus.  I’ll sit on the front porch or in my little shop listening to owls far into the night.  I’ve got a screech owl named Henry that lives at the far end of our “front yard” and a young lady named Gertrude who lives in another box near the porch.  In the evening they’ll dart into the woods surrounding the cabin and begin yodeling.  Right now the screech owls are looking for mates and their courtship call is a series of loud whistles.

You’ve heard the saying, “If you build it they will come.”  Well, the best way to attract screech owls is to build comfy boxes for them to roost and nest.  I prefer cedar wood but just about any sort of pine or even plywood will work.  There are no set dimensions other than that the box should be between 8-10 inches wide and from 10-12 inches long.  A 2 ½ inch slot below the roof overhand is adequate for screech owls or you can drill a 2 ½ inch hole about 1-1 ½ inches from the top.  Drill a few drainage holes on the floor and make sure your roof slants enough to allow rain to drip off.

I prefer hanging my screech owl boxes instead of nailing them to posts or trees because it’s more difficult for predators to gain entrance into a hanging bird box.  Set your owl boxes in cool, shaded areas that are relatively secluded.  You’ll have more success if you give the screech owl a private, reclusive residence.

We have small ponds hidden in the woods and fed from our well.  The ponds provide water for wildlife including birds.  We found that allowing the water to run into a tub and then overflow into the rest of the pond is a better method than simply releasing the water onto the sandy soil. You'll note the concrete block in the tub. We placed those specifically for screech owls because it gives them a perch and also allows them a safe exit in case they fall into the tub.

Depending on where you live it will take anywhere from three months to over a year before an owl moves in.  Your biggest competitors will be large woodpeckers like golden fronted woodpeckers.  You can always build other boxes for your woodpeckers.  I’ve found that dried agave stalks make excellent woodpecker “houses” if you cut the stalk and then drill a two-inch hole into it so that the hole will be at least ten feet off the ground.  Your two-inch hole only has to be a starter hole that enters about ½ inch into the stalk; the woodpeckers will finish the work from there.  That way your screech owl boxes are left alone for the screech owls.

An extra large screech owl box

You can build your screech owl boxes any time of the year but expect occupancy to begin in the spring.

When I was taking pictures of the screech owl boxes I ran into to this nasty bit of sign, a very unfriendly neighbor.

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