New Homes for Old!

Hey Ho! Hey Ho! it's off to work we go...

Easter traditionally heralds the arrival of spring and although a little early this year - the earliest since 1935 - as well as getting our SOS HQ ready for spring visitors, we have also been out and about completing the preparations we began last Autumn for our feathered friends in the wild.

As you may know, a proportion of the donations we receive from visitors and through adoptions goes towards funding our East Anglian Nest Box Project and pays for the nest-boxes and manpower to survey sites for, and then install and monitor, their success. Currently we are installing the last of the owl boxes in time for the breeding season, which usually begins in May.

However, there are many considerations which need to be taken into account before erecting nest boxes for wild owls and if this is of interest to you, the following guidelines set out the steps you need to take.

In simple terms, firstly you need to establish what sort of owls you have in the area, or at least which species you intend to attract. Observation is the key here: have you seen or heard owls in vicinity, or perhaps come across owl pellets? These will be your indicators that the environment holds promise.

Once you're reasonably sure that owls are already in the area, or that the habitat may well attract them, you then need to establish whether there will be a sufficient supply of wild food - usually small rodents - in the area to sustain the owls and keep their interest! This particular process may take some patient research. as if there is no localised food source, then your mission will be a fruitless one.

The next thing to do is to build or buy a suitable nestbox for the intended species. You will find more information about
Owl Nestboxes on our website by clicking here, and later this year we are publishing a free booklet on the subject - watch this space for availability and we'll be happy to send you one.

Then, when you have the right box, it's time to site it: in our case, this is always on someone else's land, so we need to get permission to do so before we start erecting boxes.

Now, be warned: there is usually quite a bit more to putting up an owl box than simply nailing it to a tree. As you will understand, the locations for siting the box may be remote, the footings soft and/or irregular, the size, shape and weight of the box more than a mere handful and the position well off the ground - so putting up a box may be at least a two-person job. Remember to equip yourself with suitable safety equipment and a good selection of tools before you set out.

To illustrate the point, we took some photos of our most recent jaunt to sites that had been fully researched as known or potentially suitable Barn Owl habitats, headed by our Conservation Office, Dean Winham. One box was to be located on the gable end of a barn, and two others in well-weathered oak trees - and as you can see from the photos we had a very interesting day putting them up.

'Job Done' on the gable-end of a local barn

'Hard Hat Dean' manfully secures a gable box in a mature tree

The rather damp & dreary day finished with an uplifting surprise! We had taken our equipment across the fields to the second of the mature trees we believed would provide the perfect roost/nest-site for a Barn Owl. Having placed our ladder at the base of the tree, suddenly - from a hole in the trunk above our heads - out one flew! After watching this beautiful bird in flight as it headed away over the fields, a very quick inspection of the hole confirmed it as a daytime roost - somewhere where nocturnal owls species "camp-out" during daylight hours to digest their meal from the previous night). Judging by the number of pellets found, we could tell that although this was not a breeding site it was obviously somewhere where this particular owl felt very much at ease.

This tree proved to already be a day-roost for a Barn Owl...

... as illustrated by the pellets inside

As a result we decided not to locate the nest box there, but successfully recce'd for a suitable alternative in the vicinity, a tree about half a mile away across the fields. Once this box was in place, all that remained to do was fill out the various pieces of paperwork for our records- and let the owls do the rest!

Now, having successfully erected the boxes, it's worthwhile remembering that this is not, of course, the end of the story - only the beginning. It can take as much as three or more years before the owls decide to use a box - so those of you who undertake the task may have a long wait before seeing any results for their actions. Also, be certain you are aware that it is ILLEGAL to go near an owl nestbox without a "Disturbance License," which can only be obtained from the relevant authorities. For more information on
Owls & The Law, please click here.

So, that concludes our owl box adventure and I felt very proud of the SOS team's efforts on this particular day. Of course, if & when we are lucky enough to have any of the boxes used, we will of course let you know.