Every creature has its place in nature—I firmly believe that. But if that creature is a rodent, I want its place to be nowhere near my home.
We live in an area surrounded by farmland, so mice, voles, gophers and other critters come with the territory. Recently, I’ve been researching ways to curb the rodent population in our immediate environs, and one solution keeps on popping up in my search: barn owls.
Barn owls have an insatiable appetite for rodents. A pair of barn owls and their brood can eat as many as 3,000 rodents in a single nesting season. That’s a LOT of mice! Farmers, especially those who practice organic farming, have been using barn owls as part of an integrated pest management system for years.
Barn owls are cavity dwellers and are happy to nest in almost any snug and quiet spot, be it the crook of a tree, the rafter of a barn, or a manmade box on a pole. So long as the food supply is ample, barn owls are not too territorial and may even nest in colonies.
You can buy a barn owl nesting box or build one of your own. Here are some things to remember if are interested in attracting barn owls to your property:
• To be attractive to the birds, owl boxes should be placed at least ten feet off the ground. But don’t place the boxes so high that they become difficult to maintain.
• Be careful not to startle parent owls during the incubation period. If a mother owl is frightened away from her nest before the eggs hatch, she may not return. Once the baby owls hatch, however, parent owls will return to feed their young, regardless.
• Barn owls are wild animals and a protected species. Although providing nesting sites for them is perfectly legal, you must be licensed if you want to handle or keep them. Contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for information and restrictions.
• Debris in owl nest boxes can be infected with hantavirus, a potentially deadly rodent-borne disease. Take precautions such as using rubber gloves and dust masks when performing maintenance or cleanup.
Barn owls that come to roost on your property bring benefits other than rodent control. For one thing, barn owls are fascinating creatures to watch. Of course, they are nocturnal, so observing their habits requires some late evenings and night-vision goggles.
As an alternative, you can buy a nesting box with a closed-circuit camera. Then you can just turn on the webcam, sit back, and enjoy the show!