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Barn Owls:Natural Rodent Control

Updated on February 14, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

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:

  • cockroaches
  • grasshoppers
  • crickets
  • caterpillars
  • lizards
  • frogs

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.

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.

Music Video Featuring Owls...Beautiful


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    • profile image

      critterridderaz 7 years ago

      Rats are intelligent animals that can sense many types of danger and avoid it to stay alive. Handling a rat control problem can be a difficult pursuit if you do not know some successful methods of rat control.

    • angel115707 profile image

      Angel Ward 7 years ago from Galveston, TX

      I love this Hub!! The owl is my spirit animal, I am part Native American,so I know my spirit animal, I just do, the video had me in tears...

      I was just thinking the other day, about wanting nest boxes, we just do not have enough owls here, we have plenty of Hawks, I think my mother said the Hawks are protected and have overpopulated in the last ten years and they may be killing the small owls, we have small and large breeds of owl, the last time I saw one here was in 2004 and I have not heard any calls either.

    • BeiYin profile image

      BeiYin 7 years ago from Ibiza Spain

      We have a big problem with rats and they are taking over. Your hub reminds me that about ten years ago there have been several Owls around and we put a post near to the compost, so they could sit on it to watch the rats and then catch them. This worked well, but then one day the owls desappeared and since years we haven't seen any. It is possible that people put poison. This happened lately in our neighborhood and ten of our cats died. We will follow your suggestion to put some nests around for owls, maybe they will come back, - I hope! Thank you for your hub.

    • killrats profile image

      killrats 7 years ago from Cape town South Africa

      Owls are top of the class when it comes to rodent control, there is no better, however rat poisons are causing huge problems for Owls and the environment. Please have a look at my Blog, Spread the Slogan. Killing rats without poison and the dead rat can be feed to your owls.

      Will be following , I like your hub.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Fantastic article. Well done. May be you would like to see my hub Plight of the U.Ks barn owl.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 9 years ago from America

      We have owls they hang out in the top of our barn. But one night we saw one fly down and try to get our cat who was coming out of the barn. The cat jumped back and the owl missed him. We mostly have great horned owls but have seen the barn owl. This year we had such a crust on our snow, the DNR was asking everyone to watch for owls because they were getting sick and dying because they couldn't get to rodents.