Barn Owls:Natural Rodent Control
One of the biggest challenges on most homesteads and small farms is rodent control. Rats and mice seem to have the ability to thrive on the feed the chickens spilled on the ground and didn't eat, the few oat grains left in the bag that you dropped on the barn floor, and the stuffing from your best saddle. Traps are only so effective; the mice seem to know where they are and avoid them.
Since the average mouse or rat raises up to 120 young per year they can settle in and become a real problem if you don't want to use poison. And you shouldn't. Poison will not only kill the rats you don't want but other predators of the rats that you do want. A poisoned mouse can have a ripple effect on a eco-system if it is eaten by a predator after it ingests the poison. The best answer is to encourage natural predators to your farm
The Barn Owl
Barn Owls are one of the best friends a small farmer has. They eat rats and mice by the dozens yet pose no real threat to most of the wildlife you want. They prefer meadow voles, mice and rats but will also eat:
Sadly, the barn owl is a threatened species in many areas, and is rapidly disappearing in many more. This means a rise in the rodent population. The barn owl is endangered due to the use of poisons and pesticides, as well as the loss of habitat.
The owl likes to nest in cavities, and prefers areas that are high in barns and silos. As small farms disappear and more pesticides are used, as more of the owls' habitat is destroyed by urban sprawl these helpful creatures are becoming rare.
Unlike most birds, Barn Owls will breed any time during the year. The only variable is the local food supply. With a lot of food a pair may breed twice in one year. During years where there is a large rodent population Barn Owl populations will increase rapidly.
The natural nesting place of Barn Owls is in tree hollows up to 10 feet high. They will also nest in old buildings, such as barns and silos, thick underbrush, caves and even in well shafts. Anywhere from three to six eggs are laid on average, although the number can be up to twelve in some cases. The eggs are laid at two day intervals and the hen will begin incubating them immediately. Chicks will hatch after about 30 days.
At first the chicks are covered in a white down. They are brooded for two weeks. At nearly six weeks old they become fledglings. They will remain close by their family nest for several days to hone their hunting skills with mom and dad, and then they will leave the area Barn Owls reach sexual maturity and begin breeding at about ten months.
Building Barn Owl Nesting Boxes
Nesting Boxes and Habitat
Building owl nesting boxes and locating them around your property can make a huge difference in the amount of rodents that you have to deal with, as well as increasing the local owl populations.
On an overage only about fifty percent of the nesting boxes you place will be inhabited by owls so it is important to place them properly and use more than you think you will need. Here are some tips for placing successful nesting boxes for Barn Owls.
- The nest boxes should be about 10 feet off the ground and near pasture and barn areas.
- The boxes can be located on posts, trees, or on barns.
- Keep the entrance to the nesting box away from the prevailing winds in your area and in natural shade if possible.
- Putting the boxes together in pairs can encourage more brooding.
- Make sure the boxes are in a safe place where they will not be interfered with.
- The box should be lined with about 2 inches of wood shavings to make a soft place for the eggs.
Since Great Horned Owls are predators of Barn owls it is best not to put nesting boxes up where Great Horned Owls are known to live. If you have Great Horned Owls on your property then they are probably controlling the rodents for you and it is especially important not to use poison.
Using Natural Methods Helps the Environment
By using natural methods of pest control the environment is strengthened and works together smoothly. When artificial controls are introduced it weakens the system and it is not as good of a system, or as strong of a system as it was before.
Encouraging natural predators like owls to your property will keep your eco-system working at full capacity.