Plastic Barn Owl Nest Boxes Versus Wooden: A Clear Choice

The molded plastic heat resistant Barn Owl Box is now being used by thousands of farms and properties.

In 2009, I was a field researcher and animal trainer for the Pittsburgh Zoo. In conjunction with Moraine Preservation Fund, we had erected over 200 wooden nest boxes in PA; however an inspection a few years later revealed many of them were rotting. The immense amount of work seemed wasted and no one had the money to build and erect replacements.

At that time I also spoke to the sustainable director for a large farming concern in Florida that had used barn owl boxes. He informed me they had given up using them since the weather quickly destroyed their plywood boxes. Similar stories came out of California. Few farms were employing large numbers of boxes, though many had a few. It seemed short-lived wooden boxes were deterring barn owl box programs.

So, over a two year period, I designed the plastic box. The product took off rapidly and we began to see large orders from vineyards and orchards. We also receive repeat orders from wildlife departments of various states. My guess had proven true: when farmers and property owners were offered a nest box that would last, they were more inclined to buy and erect them.

My goal of both conserving the barn owl and reducing the use of poisons seemed realized. To date, we have increased the number of nest boxes in the country by many thousands and this has had a positive impact on barn owl populations. Illinois alone has reported a five-fold increase in their population. The Florida farms that had discontinued using wooden boxes have now installed over 1000 plastic boxes to control

Plastic nest boxes fledge large numbers of young

the large numbers of cotton rats in their fields; they report 100% occupancy.

Our own study in Elk Grove California in 2012 attracted 18 breeding pairs that fledged 66 young on a scant 100 acre vineyard in a single season.

Occupation rate was 75%. The density of barn owls on that parcel of land was one of the highest ever reported.  (Browning, et al. 2016 published by 27th Vertebrate Pest Conference, University of CA Davis.)

Today, the choice remains between wood and plastic, and there is some debate over which may have advantages over the other. As someone who has used many of each in the field, I first want to say that both wooden and plastic boxes attract barn owls in high numbers where barn owl populations are good. That said, here are the pros and cons of each:

Pros and Cons between Wooden and Plastic Barn Owl Boxes

The Wooden Box

Advantages:

  • Can be built at home by do-it-yourselfers
  • Initial outlay is lower
  • Just as likely to attract barn owls as plastic

Disadvantages

  • Deteriorate in as little as two years
  • Need repainted periodically
  • If not repainted frequently, the wood surface makes the barn owl box too hot for fledglings
  • Harbor greater loads of parasites
  • Are heavy to install, requiring two people minimum.
  • Need replaced periodically, erasing the initial savings in costs.
  • To save on expense, many wooden boxes are built too small
  • Wooden boxes are frequently occupied by honey bees and these are often Africanized bees which present a danger to humans

The Plastic Barn Owl Nest Box

       Advantages

  • Far outlasts wooden boxes
  • More economical overall
  • Never needs repainted
  • With heat reflective pigments, double box system, and efficient venting, remains cool in full sun
  • Larger size than most wooden boxes (26 x 17 x 17).
  • Achieves high rates of occupancy and fledgling success
  • Can be quickly installed by a single person
  • Evidence indicates that honey bees (including Africanized strains) do not build nests in plastic boxes due to not being able to glue their nests to the smooth plastic

Conclusion

Despite many positives on the side of plastic, there is nothing wrong with providing wooden boxes for barn owls. They may be particularly useful for do-it-yourselfers and beginners. But for farms and property owners who want to create reliably long-lasting nest box programs that require very little maintenance, plastic next boxes provide a clear choice.

Please go to www.barnowlbox.com for more info.

Why installing Barn Owl Boxes
in the summer makes sense.

We often are asked what the best time of year is for installing nest boxes. Most people believe that springtime is best since it coincides with the breeding season. But barn owls begin choosing mates and potential sites not in spring, but in late winter. December and January mark the beginning of courtship and females are normally positioned inside the nest box by February or early March preparing to lay eggs. So, installing a nest box in spring is often too late.

In addition, the longer a new nest box is visible to local owls, the more accustomed to it they become. So installing earlier can help with the speed of occupation once breeding season begins. Summer also affords better weather for installation, so the upshot is that summer is an excellent time for getting barn owl nest boxes in the field.
Thanks to all of our customers for making our business as successful as it has become. Each time we sell a nest box, it is a win-win for barn owls across the country and for those wanting to enjoy these beautiful rodent hunters.

How and Why to Add Bedding to Barn Owl Nest Boxes

It seems that almost every aspect of maintaining barn owl nest boxes generates differing opinions; and how and why to add substrate to nest boxes is no exception.

One source of confusion comes from the fact that barn owls, unlike most birds, do not carry any bedding to their nests. On the surface, this would indicate that they do not need humans to add substrate to their nest boxes. Adding to the confusion is that barn owls do cough up pellets of fur and bone that accumulate on the floor of a nest. This also leads people to believe that these pellets negate the need for any additional nesting material. But there are some very good reasons to not rely on pellets for substrate.

Eggs are best protected by thick substrate.

For millennia, barn owls have nested in tree cavities. Such cavities had floors of soft, uneven wood and generally provided a fairly stable surface for the eggs to remain in place. But wooden and plastic nest boxes such as ours have hard, smooth floors and eggs roll readily around on such surfaces. Also, as the hen moves around, she can damage the eggs accidentally. Installing a nest box and not providing substrate means that when the hen begins laying, most of the floor will be bare and therefore dangerous to the eggs. Relying on pellet production is also not a good idea since the hen will produce only one or two pellets in the nest box per day. That is not enough to provide ample bedding to protect the eggs by the time the hen begins laying.

So, the answer is that three to four inches of bedding should be strewn across the entire floor of the nest box. Fine material such as laboratory bedding, sawdust, ground corn cob, or shredded wood should be avoided. The reason for this is that when the hen tears apart prey to feed to the youngest chicks, pieces of fine bedding can stick to the prey and then be ingested by the chick. Therefore, large pieced mulch such as garden mulch is perfect. This can be hardwood, pine, fir, or many other types of wood. Cedar is best avoided because it emits irritating fumes.

One year, my team of researchers in California could not re-bed our 25 nest boxes on our study vineyard in time for the beginning of breeding season. When we finally did get the opportunity, we found that most of the nest boxes that had eggs in them already also were ones that still contained a good amount of bedding. And nest boxes that had mostly bare floors did not–indicating that hens had rejected these nest boxes in favor of those that had a good amount of substrate. So, the barn owls themselves proved the point.

Male barn owl delivers prey to young in nest box.

On our research vineyard in California, for the first time we video taped every delivery to three chicks over the 9 week developmental period and recorded the number of prey consumed. This delivery, like most others, was made quickly, the hunting male handing off the prey to the most aggressive young–which indicates it is the hungriest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3dZTjj9AEo

 

 

Christmas Sale on Barn Owl Nest Boxes

Save $40 off of our regular price. No limits on purchases.

 

Take advantage of our deep Xmas discounts for our premier product, the Barn Owl Nest Box Pole Model. This plastic molded nest box is lightweight, long lasting, heat resistant and is by the far the best barn owl box on the market. It is now in use by thousands of vineyards, orchards, state wildlife agencies, and private property owners. Normally $259, it is now deeply discounted for Christmas at $219. Good till December 18th! Go to https://www.barnowlbox.com/shop/boxes/the-pole-model/ to order.

Barn owls consume extraordinary numbers of harmful rodent pests including pocket gophers, voles, mice, and rats and have been shown to significantly reduce pest numbers and damage to crops from pests. See the PBS segment on our research in California here: http://www.americasheartland.org/episodes/episode_714/owls_save_crops.htm

Note the baby barn owls peering out from the entrance.

The Barn Owl Nest Box Pole Model, constructed of rugged molded plastic, features a landing ledge, exterior perch, rain guard, and viewing window in the rear. It incorporates heat reflective pigments in the outer box, combined with highly efficient venting that keeps the nest box near ambient temperature in full sun. The nest box has been used in various research projects around the country and achieves 80 to 100% occupancy in many regions. State biologists in California, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania have been installing them in conservation programs. Vineyards, orchards, row crops, sugar cane and other agriculture use them in sophisticated nest box programs to create dense populations of owls that                        reduce rodent numbers and rodent control costs.

Barn Owl Breeding Season is Coming

Barn owls begin breeding activity as early as January in warmer areas, and as late as early March in others. They are highly skilled at locating cavities suitable for nesting and constantly search for entrances that will accomodate them and their young. The best time to install is anywhere from November to mid-March. We also offer the Barn Owl Box Pole Kit, visible in the photo on the right that allows for easy installation. You can see this product here: https://www.barnowlbox.com/shop/installation/339/

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The Guatemalan Barn Owl

The Guatemalan Barn Owl (scientific name Tyto furcata guatemalae) not only lives throughout Guatemala but ranges from Guatemala through Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. It looks very similar to the North American Barn Owl (Tyto furcata pratincola) but does have more spotting on chest and belly.

Barn owls in Guatemala are one of only four open country owls there.

In keeping with the kind of high levels of biodiversity in the tropics, the relatively small region of Guatemala contains 18 resident species of owls. The highest number of species (16) are found in the highlands, but the lowlands on both the Atlantic (13) and Pacific (12) slopes have a good number as well. Of the 18 species, 12 of them are forest specialists very much like our barred and spotted owls. The barn owl is one of only four open country hunters out of the eighteen.

Studies have shown that the barn owl is the fifth most common owl in Guatemala. There it hunts primarily rodents and raises its young in tree hollows. It also, without a doubt, inhabits farms and plantations where it preys on various rodent pests.

An excellent work on owls in Latin America is the book “Neotropical Owls” edited by Paula L. Enriquez. Much of the information in this article is indebted to the chapter on Guatemalan owls by Knut Eisermann and Claudia Avendano.

 

Our own North American barn owl, Tyto furcata pratincola, is part of the entire Tyto furcata group known as American Barn owls that range from southern Canada all the way to Argentina. The subspecies in Costa Rica is Tyto furcata guatemalae which ranges from Guatemala down through northern Columbia. The race is somewhat darker and more heavily speckled than the North American barn owl, but in habits is much the same.

In my recent visit to Costa Rica to find out whether barn owls are being used in agriculture there, I was surprised to learn that no one knew of a single nest box that anyone had installed for these birds. But conversations about the proliferation of rodent pests in agriculture such as sugar cane and rice led me to believe that the use of barn owls in this beautiful country has the potential for a great deal of benefit to farms and plantations.

Costa Rican sugar cane is plagued with rodents that barn owls could help reduce.

My naturalist friend George Hagnauer who lives with his family on a beautiful property near the town of Canas in the dry sunny state of Guanacaste told stories of rat plagues when rat populations boomed in the monocultures of sugar cane and rice. Rats became a terrible problem in people’s gardens and homes and of course destroyed crops at devastating levels.

The farmers resorted to a cocktail of poisons and the result mirrored those that had occured decades earlier in Israel, with many other non-target animals succumbing to the poisons by preying on the effected rats and mice. This included many raptorial birds such as hawks and owls and other wild predators. One of the more insidious facts about the poisons used in Costa Rica is that many of them are poisons banned for use in the U.S., but still manufactured in the U.S. and shipped to other countries where they exact untold damage on wildlife and ecosystems.

The fact that sugar cane enterprises in Florida are utilizing hundreds of barn owl nest boxes to manage rodent numbers to prevent such outbreaks is testimony to the effectiveness of barn owls in suppressing crop damage in that one crop alone. Costa Rica is a major producer of bananas and using barn owls there should be explored for its potential for lowering the use of poisons in one of the most biodiverse regions of the world.

Welcome to our new product, The Wooden Barn Owl Box, which supplements our line of rotomolded polyethylene products. Our customers have often inquired about a wooden alternative to our popular plastic nest box. Not only is this nest box economical, we have spared no expense in its production. The nest box is double coated on the outside with specially designed heat-reflective paint, and painted on the inside with dark brown to repel pests and moisture and to keep it dark for the birds.

The 9 x 20 clean out door on the side is hinged to swing down, locks with two turnkeys, and allows ample space to replace mulch.

The large access door allows for quick and easy cleaning and the brown interior protects against pests and moisture and keeps it dark for the birds. Note the viewing window/vent in the rear with protective mesh that allows for inspection of the nest avoiding the need to look inside the entrance hole.
The weatherproof vent on the rear doubles as an inspection window when the plastic cover is removed. Here the cover is on, sealing the vent from rain. The vent adds to the efficient ventilation of the nest box achieved by the tapered gaps along the tops of each side, and the large entrance hole.

The Wooden Barn Owl Box measures 26 x 19 x 19 and weighs only 22 pounds. Assembly is made simple and easy with all screw holes pre-drilled. Takes approximately twenty minutes.

Announcing the launch of our new product: The Wooden Barn Owl Box. 

The Wooden Barn Owl Box from the                  Barn Owl Box Company

Our newest product, the Wooden    Barn Owl Box is a departure from  our rotomolded nest boxes. We      have been asked for some period of  time to produce a wooden box, so in keeping with customer demand we have designed this cutting-edge wooden box, sparing no amount of  labor or expense to ensure that this nest box excels over other wooden boxes that are being offered. We accomplish this through adhering to the same high standards that we apply to the construction of our rotomolded boxes: heat-resistant surfaces, efficient ventilation, excellent water-proofing, and ease of maintenance. The nest box is painted with two coats of heat reflective paint.

The photos below show the various innovative features of this nest box. During this time of preventative measures against coronavirus when our manufacturers are shut down, we will be able to manufacture and ship these boxes from our Pennsylvania location nationwide.

The roof is sloped to the rear and overhangs all sides to repel rain. A tapered gap at the top provides excellent ventilation. The 9 x 18 access door allows for easy maintenance, and the front features a 5.5″ entrance hole and landing perch.

 

The large access door allows for quick and easy cleaning and the brown interior protects against pests and moisture and keeps it dark for the birds.

 

 

The weatherproof vent on the rear doubles as an inspection window when the plastic cover is removed.

 

 

 

In addition to the above features, the Wooden Barn Owl Box incorporates two coats of a specially designed, heat-reflective paint for roofing applications that keeps the box close to ambient temperature even in full sun. The interior dark brown paint also provides moisture and pest resistance and keeps the box dark for the birds. 

At 24 x 19 x 19 inches the nest box provides ample space for a family of barn owls. The box weighs 26 pounds. The clean out door makes it quick and easy to clean and maintain, and the combination vent and viewing window in the rear allows for inspection of the contents of the box without the need to look through the entrance hole. Excellent ventilation is achieved through cross venting between the rear vent and the entrance hole combined with the long gaps at the top of each side.

The nest box assembles in under half an hour, requiring only an electric drill and Phillips head drill bit. Any questions regarding this new product, email us at marksbrowning@gmail.com or call 877-637-8269.

 

Three different mounting methods for the Wooden Barn Owl Box. (1) The first is perhaps the easiest when mounting on a 4 x 4 post. The base is bolted to the center of the nest box underside and receives the post which is then secured with screws. (2) The second piece of hardware also screws to a 4 x 4. (3) The round flange is what is used to attach the nest box to the threads on a 1″ Schedule C pipe. All three are available at hardware and building supply stores.

Tips on Placement and Installation

Barn owls are open field hunters and therefore their nest boxes should be placed near open areas such as vineyards, orchards, pastures, grasslands, wetlands, or row crops. Entrance holes may be a bit more attractive to barn owls if they face easterly (NE, SE, or E) directions. The barn owl box does not need to be erected any higher than eight feet. Always place large pieced bark mulch about three inches deep across the entire floor. Barn owls will breed in any month of the year, but can be so quiet that you will not know they are there. Keep inspections to a minimum. If you discover barn owls on eggs or with chicks, let them be until the chicks are close to fledging age (six to nine weeks). Attracting barn owls is as simple as erecting a nest box and allowing the barn owls to find the nest box with their excellent eyesight.

The Barn Owl Box Company Booth at the World Ag Expo 2018

Discount prices for the molded plastic Barn Owl                  Box at the World Ag Expo

The Barn Owl Box Company will have a booth (Booth 1327, Pavilion A & B) at the World Ag Expo, being held February 13 – 15, 2018 in Tulare, California. The expo is the largest agricultural exposition held annually in the country, attracting nearly 200,00 visitors, many of whom are in the agricultural industry. Professionals involved in the vineyards, orchards, hay fields, row crops, and cattle industry from all over the United States will attend. This will be the company’s third time hosting at the expo where interest in our products is always very high.

World Ag Expo Special Discounts

Nest boxes ordered at the expo will be priced at World Ag Expo discounts. Nest boxes normally priced at $189 will be on sale for $169; orders of 10 or more will be priced at $149 each.

Free Consultations Regarding Using Barn Owls for Rodent Control

Barn Owl Box Company representatives, including Mark Browning, field researcher and designer of the nest boxes, will be present to answer

questions regarding attracting barn owls and their effectiveness in reducing rodent numbers in various types of agriculture.  Information specific to the needs of individual farms and vineyards will be available, including advice on nest box density, integrated pest management approaches, and installation location preferences.

Barn Owl Box Company Distributors Sought

California is hands down the most cutting edge state in terms of using barn owls for rodent control. Our distributors, mainly farm and irrigation supply stores, do extremely well with our products and we seek to expand our distributors in the state. Interested parties should stop by our booth or call 412-874-9403 to set up a meeting ahead of time.

World Ag Expo General Info

Held February 13-15, 2018. Tuesday & Wednesday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.. Thursday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.. General Admission $15 at the gate. Children 6 and under, free. Location International Agri-Center 4500 South Laspina Street Tulare, California.

66 young barn owls fledged from 18 active nests in 2012 on a single 100 acre vineyard.

The Barn Owl/Rodent Study

Just published in the Journal of Pest Management, Newport Beach, California: From 2011 through 2013, researcher Mark Browning and a team of students from U.C. Davis and Columnes River College saturated a 100-acre vineyard south of Sacramento, California with 25 barn owl nest boxes, eventually resulting in a population of 36 adult owls that fledged 66 young. This produced a population of 102 barn owls hunting the vineyard and surrounding area. Using data gleaned from nest box cams, the research was able to conclude that this rather incredible density of owls consumed 30,000 + rodents over a three year period. Statistical analysis showed a strong correlation of number of owls to a decline in rodent activity. This study is the first of its kind to accurately record the number of rodent deliveries to growing barn owl chicks, and the first to establish the economic value of barn owls to farmers and property owners. Cost comparison data showed that the average cost of trapping per rodent was $8.11 while the nest box program resulted in a cost of .27 per rodent taken by barn owls. This provides very valuable and useful information for farmers to use in assessing the effectiveness and results of barn owl nest box programs.

Here is the full text of the paper:

Prey Consumption by a Large Aggregation of Barn Owls in an Agricultural Setting

Barn Owls in Wyoming

Barn-Owl-8869Wyoming is one of those states where there is simply not enough information to build an accurate picture of barn owl populations. The Wyoming Breeding Bird Atlas shows most observations of barn owls and confirmed nest sites in the eastern third of the state, however, the southwest corner also has its share of barn owls sightings and there are isolated records in other areas. Most breeding records are from Goshen County in the southeastern corner. They have also been observed breeding in cliff crevices in neighboring Platte County. But sightings and confirmed breeding sites recorded by state biologists are low in number and scattered.

The large amounts of hay, wheat, and barley grown in the state, as well as large stretches of grasslands, would provide good numbers of potential prey, but one aspect of the wide open topography is a noted lack of potential nesting sites—cliffs and trees are scarce, and ranches and farms are expansive, with few outbuildings. And regardless of good habitat, the state receives high amounts of snow fall, which in the worst years, set barn owl populations back considerably.

On the positive side, nearby Idaho has excellent populations in its agricultural valleys, and the Snake River Valley of

Blue = scattered breeding; Green = uncommon; Gray = rare to nonexistent

Blue = scattered breeding; Green = uncommon; Gray = rare to nonexistent

Idaho, where barn owls are common, runs directly into western Utah. However, barn owl progress into the rest of the state from there is impeded by high mountains.

The Wyoming Breeding Bird Atlas states that “their breeding range is likely much greater than currently known” and this seems a reasonable assumption. The atlas suggests that areas such as the Snake River Valley, Star Valley, and the Bear River floodplain in Lincoln county along the western border with Idaho have good habitat and may support numbers of barn owls. More investigation may lead to the recording of larger numbers of owls that previously expected. The range map reflects the strong probability that Idaho populations of barn owls continue along the Snake River Basin into far western Wyoming and breed there in some numbers.

Thanks to Wyoming biologist Susan Patla for contributing first hand information for this article.