Saturday, January 14, 2012

Owls: nature's rodenator.

Sarah and I (BJ) have been a little obsessed with owls lately... I know they're trendy right now and its hip to have vintage owl bric-a-brac around your home, but what about the real thing?  We have a Barn Owl that flies around our canyon at night, and I have been trying to attract him and his friends to our property since we moved here in May of 2010.  Why? because the one thing we are really good at growing on our farm is gophers.

The gophers have made it clear that they were here first and aren't leaving without a fight.  I've tried traps, smoke bombs and even flushing them out with water from the hose. All to no avail. Our biological controls (our cats) were working OK.  Like the gophers, Max the Cat also came with the purchase of the farm (although I don't remember seeing him mentioned in the lease agreements).  Max survived on gophers for the 1.5 months we were in escrow and continued to be his favorite food after we realized he wasn't a neighbors cat and he was our responsibility.  Unfortunately, like all bad ass tom cats, Max would not be contained indoors after dark, and eventually he and a coyote had a run in.  I like to think he took a piece of that coyote with him before the end.

What I really want is a Rondenator, but I can't justify spending $1,600 on something that blows up gophers (a little too much like the movie Caddy Shack). Which brings us back to the owls.

Right around the time we moved in, that OwlCam thing online was really big, my dad kept sending me the links, so eventually I too got sucked into watching baby owls eat various rodents for hours on end.  It was here I learned that nesting owls can consume something like 3,000 gophers a season!!  So I promptly built my first owl box and precariously hung it in an old pepper tree on our back hill, and to my surprise someone promptly moved in. Unfortunately it was bee colony.  Owl box #1, Fail!

I currently find myself with a lot of free time, so I decided to try again.  This owl box is complete with metal roof and is attached to 4 separate branches in a tall lemonade berry via hooks and wires.  My thought was, if it fill with bees again, I can lower it down by the wires and scoop out the bees and put them in our unoccupied hive (currently Sarah's project).

For those of you that want to build an owl box there are about a 100 different ways to do it, and every internet site will tell you their way is best.  But really Barn Owls they need is an enclosed space with a 6" diameter hole in it.  In nature, they use tree hollows, they aren't picky.  Just make sure there are some drainage holes.  And think through if there are anywhere from 2-10 owlets in there (plus parents) how much space they might want.  Lastly, make the entrance hole higher on the box, so baby owls can't accidentally fall out. So there you go, build a box, put a hole on it and hang it at least 10-15ft up.  Happy owling.

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