Hoot Hoot – Breeding Box

Breeding box

Build a breeding box and a pair of spotted eagle owls may just decide to move in and raise their young in the safety of your garden. Now that’s something to hoot about!

For centuries, owls have been, and in some cases are still thought by some to bring illness; to be the bird of sorcerers and witches; to be the bearer of bad omens and even to be a sign of impending death. For these reasons owls have been persecuted and killed, without any cognisance being paid to the vitally important role that they play within the ecosystem.

With the diets of most owls consisting of rodents, the effect they have on controlling rodent populations is critical. Sadly, due to owls relying on rodents as their food, rodenticides (rat poisons) have wreaked even more havoc on owl populations around the world.

We all want nice clean gardens and homes that are free from rats and mice, so vast quantities of rat poisons are sold annually. These poisons are not as effective in reducing rodent numbers as we would like, due to the intelligence of rats, but at the same time, eating a poisoned rat usually means the demise of the owl. And with every owl that dies, there is a further increase in the rat population. So, our very attempts to poison rats can be the cause of a more serious rat problem in an area.

Whilst there are some rat poisons that claim to be environmentally friendly, I would not recommend using them. Should you feel forced to, then Racumin or Finale would probably be the best options. They reputedly have the least secondary poisoning effect, but, in my opinion, a live healthy owl is still the best way to control rodents.

This has been proven many times over by progressive farmers, who, simply by encouraging owls to take up residence on their farms, have been able to eliminate the use of rodenticides. The rodents are controlled to such an extent that the farmers also see a reduction in crop damage.

In cities, there are many examples of the dramatic reduction in rat populations after owls have begun nesting in a residential area. The food they require to feed their growing young is exactly why getting owls to nest is in your area is of even greater benefit than simply having them reside there.

The most common owl to be seen in our suburbs is the spotted eagle-owl. Having a pair breeding in your garden is an amazing experience. What you will start to realise when you have owls around is that a small, controlled rat population is essential, but the rat numbers are limited and so they are never the nuisance they can be without the owls.

Given that it is almost impossible to get rid of every rat, no matter how hard you try, why not manage  by encouraging owls to breed in your garden? The DIY nest box that follows is specifically designed to meet the nesting requirements of spotted eagle-owls. Don’t be discouraged by thinking there are no owls in your area, and thus there would be no value in erecting an owl box.

Spotted eagle-owls are only really vocal in the two to three months prior to nesting. As breeding normally begins in July, you will not hear much from the owls before the beginning of April and by the end of winter they have become rather quiet again. If you want to know if owls are around, go out in the evening in winter and listen, there is a good chance you will hear the soft, double-noted hooting.

And now let’s look at building the breeding box. I recommend using pine as it is fairly weather resistant and quite affordable. You will need 20 mm pine board cut into the following dimensions :

• Sides: 370 x 550 mm (x 2)
• Base: 550 x 500 mm (x 1)
• Top/lid: 500 x 610 mm (x 1)
• Back: 460 x 370 mm (x 1)
• Front entrance lips: 460 x 60 mm (x 2)
• Perch supports: 400 x40 mm (x2)
• Perch: 20 mm dowel stick, 520 mm long

You will also Need – screws, a drill, screwdriver, wood glue, wood filler, corner clamps and polyurethane sealer.

Breeding Box – Step by Step

1.Start with the panel that forms the base and drill four holes along each edge, 10 mm in from the sides. Countersink the holes to weatherproof the screws.

Breeding box

2.Place a line of wood glue along the edge of the base, where you will be attaching the first side. Take one of the side panels and screw it onto the base. If you have the luxury of a pair of corner clamps then use them to help you get a perfect 90 degree angle. Attach the second side panel in the same way.

3.Now drill and countersink three holes up the edges of both of the side panels, at the back. These holes should be 10 mm in from the edge.

Breeding box

4.To ensure the back panel will fit well, temporarily mount a strip of wood 20 mm in from the edge at the back of the breeding box, along the base. This will ensure a nice fit when you insert the back panel. Spread wood glue on all the surfaces that will meet and then insert the back panel and screw it tight. Remove the temporary strip.

Breeding box

5.Take the top panel (the lid) and drill and countersink holes along three edges, 10 mm in, in order to attach it to the side and back panels. It should be flush with the rear and sides of the box and overhang in the front (for shade). Spread wood glue along the top edges of the three panels, position the lid and screw it in place.

Breeding box

6.Next, install the bottom lip of the entrance to the box as follows: after measuring carefully drill two holes through both side panels, spread wood glue on the surfaces that will meet, insert the lip and screw it in place.

7.Follow the same procedure to install the top lip, again measuring carefully before drilling the holes.

8.Now build the perch. Starting with the two perch supports, drill two countersunk screw holes in each piece, one near the back and one midway. Then, using a 15 mm hole-boring bit, cut a hole 10 mm deep into the front end of each of the two perch supports – do not drill right through. Cut the dowel stick so that it is exactly 20 mm longer than the width of the front of the box. Drill small countersunk screw holes through the already bored out holes, spread wood glue on the ends of the dowel stick, and screw the perch supports to the dowel stick. Next, screw the two perch supports onto either side of the box, ensuring the perch is about 150 mm from the front of the box.

9.Use wood filler to cover each countersunk screw, and then seal all the wood using a polyurethane sealer.

Positioning the Breeding Box

Now that you have a breeding box, you need to choose a good place to install it. Firstly, never install it near a bedroom. The youngsters and adults can be a little noisy as they beg and squabble over food, and the owl pellets can make the ground below the box a little messy.

The entrance of the box should face north or northeast, and you should have easy access to the box to pop any youngsters back in if they happen to fall out.

Finally, make sure the box is at least four metres above the ground. Do not expect owls to move in immediately; in fact it can take a few years. Not every garden can have a breeding owl pair, but territories are not that big and so your chances of success are pretty good.

If you are near water, then bear in mind that summer can see the box used by Egyptian geese (but don’t stress because they will move out in time for the owls). It is not uncommon to see the same box used by owls and geese year after year. Good luck and happy owl breeding!

The Gardener