How and Why to Attract Owls to Your Backyard
Why Attract Owls?
Probably your first question after reading the title would be: Why? Why would I want to attract owls to my backyard? In addition to being awesomely beautiful birds, owls are extremely efficient at eradicating rodents. Gardeners and orchard owners should appreciate the free help from owls in controlling gnawing pests like mice, rats and voles.
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Owl populations have plummeted in recent years due to several factors: loss of habitat in which to hunt; lack of tall trees for nesting; and the use of toxic rodent baits. After ingesting rats and mice and other rodents that have eaten lethal baits, owls become victims of the toxins, too. Because owls swoop low to hunt for and grab prey, they are often struck by vehicles as well.
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Amazingly, it isn’t hard to entice owls to your property.
In fact, you probably have owls in your neighborhood without even realizing it because they hunt almost exclusively at night. Being absolutely silent hunters, the only way you can tell they are near is if they ‘hoot’! Although there was one time soon after we moved to this wooded area that I was surprised by an owl that didn’t ‘hoot’.
It was one of those nights when the stars are just like diamonds in the sky; millions of shiny points of light. The warm evening lured me into a section of my backyard unlit by anything. Suddenly I heard what sounded like a loud crazy whinnying wail right behind me. Well if you don’t think I beat my shadow to the front door, you’re mistaken!
After collecting myself, it occurred to me that it must have been a screech owl playing tricks on me! Perhaps I had unknowingly ventured too close to its nest? Anyway, sure enough, the next day right out front perched in the crotch of a small tree was a grey screech owl. Perhaps it was declaring it's territory; or maybe it was sorry it had startled me!
Video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Screech Owls Are Small
They are small as owls go—only 10” or so. And screech owls are perfectly camouflaged, either grey or brown mottled like the trees in which they perch. I watched it for several minutes, but it was asleep; probably tired itself out waiting to scare me the night before! The next time I looked out the window it had flown away.
Barred Owls and Barn Owls
So screech owls are an exception to the ‘hoot’ rule. If you listen closely at night from February on, you will probably hear an owl calling. That’s when my Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls and Barn Owls start calling for mates. I have heard them during the daytime as well, especially in the summer. Across the road from our woods there are more woods, plus a stream. Since these owls love to hunt for rodents, this is ideal country for them.
Barred Owl from Cornell Lab of Ornithology
I often hear the comforting Barred Owls’ call: ‘who cooks for you, who cooks for you awwwwl’; once in a while I hear them’ bark’ as well. Now the heart-shaped-faced Barn Owls like to growl and utter banshee-like screams. They make snapping noises, click with their beaks and hiss! If you have a Great Horned Owl nearby, you will know it from the deep and low 'hoo, hoo, hoo, HOO, HOO’ that carries far distances on the night air. Owls are fascinating, beautiful and helpful creatures. Why wouldn’t you want them around!
Do You Have Owls In Your Neighborhood?
How to Attract Owls to Your Yard
Okay, now we know why. The question then is how do we go about making our backyard an owl-friendly place? The best and most logical way is to mimic their preferred habitat to the best of our ability.
No Toxic Chemicals, Please!
First and foremost: Do Not Use Toxic Chemicals on your lawn, gardens, trees, shrubs, or orchard! Let the predators take care of the prey for you. And that includes insects and rodents. Birds are nature’s aerial pest patrol. That’s what they were designed to do, and they do it very well if we let them. Owls rely on their keen nighttime vision, but also use their highly-developed sense of hearing to locate prey. It is well documented that owls can reduce rodent populations by 75% or more!
Owls are Cavity and Platform Nesters
Owls like to use cavities in large trees; and will use old hawk’s nests, abandoned buildings with open access and lofts in farm buildings in which to nest. If you own a tall outbuilding like a storage shed with an open loft area, leaving the upper door open might entice an owl to nest in it. Owls breed from mid-March right through mid-May.
How to Build a Screech Owl Box
- Audubon: Backyard
Audubon magazine shows you how to build a screech owl box.
If you don’t have any of these nearby, consider installing owl nesting boxes. They are easy to construct, and can be mounted from 8’ and higher. That height will discourage any starlings from using the box. Add dry leaves, dried pine needles, wood shavings or clean rabbit bedding from the pet store to the bottom of the nesting box to a depth of 3”.
This makes the box much easier to clean, while cushioning owl eggs and owlets.
Owls perch on high during the day to sleep, and then descend on open grassy or wooded areas at night to hunt. If you have gardens, then you have rodents. If you have rodents, you will attract owls!
A word of warning though, if you have small outdoor cats, don’t let them out at night! And watch out for those playful screech owls!