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How to Build a Barn Owl Nesting Box: Barn Owl Nest Box Plans

Updated on October 4, 2017
Anthony Altorenna profile image

I like spending time in the garden, around the house, in the workshop, and fishing. Many of the projects in my articles are originals.

Barn Owl
Barn Owl | Source

Give the Barn Owls a Home

Barn owls are cavity-nesting birds, raising their young in the natural cavities of old trees, in abandoned woodpeckers holes or even on rocky outcroppings. Common throughout their range and found on every continent except Antarctica, barn owls are familiar sights around farms, orchards and open fields.

Barn owl populations are declining due to habitat loss and a lack of suitable nesting sites. Many of the older barns are being torn down, and today's airtight agricultural buildings do not provide the owls with the easy access to the hay lofts and other sheltered areas for nesting offered by the old barns and silos.

Barn owl nest boxes are often set up inside an open-air building such as a barn, shed or an abandoned building, but barn owls will also move into a nest boxes mounted to trees or poles in suitable open areas near fields, woodlands and orchards. If mounted indoors, it is very important that the owls have unrestricted access to the nesting box, flying in and out of the building as they please. Placing the nest box in areas away from human activity is also important for attracting barn owls, and encouraging them to raise their brood.

This barn owl nest box features a large opening for easy access. The entrance hole is raised above the nest box floor to help prevent the baby owlets from falling out and down to the ground -- a common problem for baby barn owls. A divider inside the entrance allows the adult barn owls inside, but restricts larger predators such as raccoons and opossums from entering the nesting box.The nesting box is designed for placement inside of a building or against the side of a tree or pole. The floor lifts out for easy cleaning or as an option, you can hinge the roof to lift open. You can also add a small, covered peephole to check on the nesting box residents.

How To Build A Barn Owl Nest Box

Assemble the Nesting Box

Since 16" wide pine boards are difficult to find (not to mention, very expensive), the front and back panels use two 7" wide boards (1 x 8), edge-glued together with weather-resistant glue. To create the entrance to the nesting box, refer to the Barn Owl Nesting Box Diagram (below) and position the two front panels side-by-side (part A).

Mark out the openings on to each of the front panel pieces, and then cut out the opening with a jigsaw. Smooth over the rough-cut edges with a rasp and sandpaper. When positioned in place as the front of the nest box, the oval entrance hole should measure 4 " high by 3 " wide.

Use weather-resistant screws or nails to attached one end of a front panel (part A) to the edge of one of the sides (part C), then secure the opposite end of the front panel to other side panel. Run a bead of water-resistant glue along the long edge of the front panel, add the second front panel piece and secure in place with weather-resistant screws or nails.

Repeat the assembly of the back panel (part b), forming a four-sided box measuring 24 inches long, 12 inches wide and 14 inches high.

Drop in the Floor and Pop on the Top

The plywood floor of the nest box rests on cleats that are secured to the inside, bottom edges of the front, back and side panels. The cleats securely hold the floor in place, yet make it easy to remove a floor section completely for cleaning.

Start by attaching a 24 inch long, 1" x 3/4" cleat along the inside, bottom edge of the front panel with a bead of glue and several short nails or screws. Repeat the process with another 24" long cleat along the inside, bottom edge of the back panel. Then, measure and fit the cleats along the inside, bottom of the two side panels.

Test fit the floor (part E), trimming as needed for a snug fit. The floor should drop into place, yet pop out easily when pushed up from underneath.

To accommodate the divider (part F) yet allow the removal of the nesting box bottom, it is important to cut the floor into two pieces, one 8" long for the entrance area, the other 16" long for the nesting area.

Position and secure the 8" floor section to the front, back and side cleats in the entrance area of the nesting box. Then, attach the divider (part F) to the inside of the front panel, creating an entrance area with an opening into the nesting area.

Fit the 16" section of the floor to the nesting area, but do not secure the floor section to the supporting cleats. To prevent predators from popping up through the floor, carefully measure and then drive a few well-placed screws through the front panel and into the edge of the plywood floor section. Drive another well-placed screw through the side panel, securing the floor in place. When it is time for the annual cleaning, simply back out the screws and remove the floor.

Secure the roof in place with several more screws, positioning the roof so that it overhangs the nesting box evenly on all side. As an option, attach the roof to the back panel with a pair of small hinges, allowing easy access to the nest box by lifting the lid.

Barn Owl Nest Box Plans

Hanging the Nest Box

Proper placement is critical to encouraging the owls to move into a new nesting box. Mount the nest box inside the open-air building as high as possible, away from disturbances and out of the reach of predators. The nest box entrance should face towards the inside of the building (not towards a wall) so that an owl flying into the building to investigate can see the nest box opening. After all, an owl has to find the nesting box before it can use it to raise its young.

Add a thick layer of pine shavings to the nest box. Owls do not bring nesting materials to their nests, and will use the 1" to 2" deep layer of pine shavings for laying their eggs. The thick layer of shavings stops the eggs from rolling around the nesting box and helps to protect the eggs during incubation. Do not use fine sawdust or cedar shavings, which can cause respiratory problems for the young owlets.

Don't get discouraged if a barn owl doesn't move into your new nesting box right away. It can take a year or more before an owl finds the new nesting box and calls it home to raise a family.

Make A Simple Cleat Hanging System

Make a simple cleat system for hanging projects such as the barn owl nesting box, birdhouses and window boxes. The cleat is made by ripping a scrap piece of stock on a 45-degree angle. As show in the diagram, one piece is attached to the nest box, and locks into the second piece that is attached to a tree, pole or the interior wall of an open-air barn or shed.

To make the hanging cleat, start with a piece of wood that is at least four inches wide, and slightly shorter than the length of the nesting box. Tilt the table saw blade to 45 degrees, then set the fence to 2” from the blade to rip the stock into two mirror image pieces, each with a 45 degree bevel cut along one edge. When ripped at a 45 degree bevel, the 4 inch wide piece of stock will yield two mirror image cleats that measure approximately 2” on the wide side. One cleat is attached to the back of the project with the 45-degree angle of the cleat pointing downward, forming an inverted “V” between the back of the nest box and the outside surface of the cleat.

Attach the second cleat where you want to hang the nesting box, this time with the “V” of the cleat facing upward. Use weather resistant screws, and make sure the cleat is level.

When fitted together, the two 45-degree “V”s from each piece lock together to securely hold the nesting box in place. Adding a filler strip along the bottom edge of the nest box below the cleat on the backside will hold the nest box level upright and plumb. Cut the filler strip to the same thickness as the cleats.

Barn Owl Facts

A clutch of little owlets
A clutch of little owlets | Source

Did You Know?

  • Barn owls are the most widely distributed species of owl and they are found across Europe, North America and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. They can live up to ten years (longer in captivity), though the average life span is less than five years in the wild.
  • Depending on the sub-species, a barn owl's wingspan can exceed 40 inches across.
  • Female barn owls typically lay clutches of five to seven eggs, which hatch after 30 to 34 days.
  • Baby owls are called owlets.
  • Barn owls are nocturnal hunters with excellent vision in low light, preying on mice and other small rodents. They have exceptional hearing, and can locate a mouse using sound. Small prey is swallowed whole, while larger meals are torn into smaller pieces.
  • Owls expel two or more 'owl pellets' each day, consisting of indigestible bits of bone, teeth and fur. Even if you do not see or hear the owls, finding a pile of owl pellets is a good indication that the nest box is occupied.
  • A family of owls can capture and eat over 1,000 rodents during the nesting season.

Have you ever seen a Barn Owl?

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Around the Web: Owl Links

What makes Barn Owls so special: The Barn Owl Trust

The Barn Owl Trust: working to conserve and protect the the Barn Owl and its environment.

Since 1988, the Barn Owl Trust has recorded sightings of wild Barn Owls along with roost sites and nest sites across England. The priority is to ensure that existing nest sites continue to be occupied and that they produce more young to repopulate other sites. They currently have over 16,000 records of wild barn owls.

Feisty Baby Barn Owls

Vacancy: Owls Wanted

© 2012 Anthony Altorenna

Tell Us About the Owls in Your Neck of the Woods

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      "Owls Wanted", I like that and once again Anthony you have created excellence....not only in your DIY but all the information you supply on Barn Owls along the way. I love how you explain the special nest box features and how they benefit the birds....sure wouldn't want the little ones tumbling out. The secondary entrance to block predators is such a great idea. I didn't know Barn Owls are protected but then I couldn't imagine anyone harming this beautiful bird. I can understand how they can be killed by cars, one of my childhood memories is one we say almost hit our windshield one night. Fortunately Dad was going slow and the Barn Owl was able to veer off just in time....that was my closest view of one, it was majestice!