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.

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5818179-map-of-san-diego-californiaSAN DIEGO PEST CONTROL USING BARN OWLS

As a major metropolitan area, San Diego has its normal fare of urban rodent pests. These are mainly the house mouse and Norwegian rat. And because surrounding San Diego County also contains a great deal of agriculture, even more species of rodent pests are prevalent in the area, doing damage to crops, homes, and other structures. Such pests include the vole, the pocket gopher, and the roof rat.

San Diego Rodent Pests

roof rat 3

Roof rats damage citrus

House mice and rats carry disease, eat large amounts of stored foods, damage wooden structures by their constant chewing, and also damage electrical wiring. Voles inhabit grassland and farmland and cause expensive damage to vines and orchards, consuming fruit and sometimes girdling trees and vines so badly that they perish. Pocket gophers create huge burrow systems, create large mounds that interfere with machinery, and damage crops by chewing on roots. Roof rats live in trees and manmade structures and cause untold damage to citrus and other crops.

San Diego Pest Control

In other words, San Diego is a haven for harmful rodent pests. And there exists an abundance of pest control companies in the region. Such companies offer trapping and poisoning programs, both of which have their limitations. One limitation they hold in common is that such programs need to be relentless in their application–the moment that traps and poisons are withdrawn, rodents resume expanding their population with their high reproductive rate. Another is their relatively high cost per rodent taken. Lastly, poisons invariably find their way into the ecosystem, killing numerous other species of wildlife.

Barn Owls in San Diego

The Pole Model

Click for more info on the molded plastic Barn Owl Box

But the unique and rather amazing barn owl offers a solution that both offers relentless pressure on rodent populations and lower costs and maintenance. A single occupied nest box at an original cost of under $200 will normally house two barn owl adults and four offspring that will, over a year’s time, consume over 1200 rodents. That is a cost per rodent taken at 17 cents each, contrasting strongly with the estimated cost of around $8 per rodent taken by trapping. Each box needs cleaned out only once per year.

And San Diego residents, from farmers to property owners, have been catching on to this growing trend as more and more nest boxes are installed for natural pest control. The solution for pest control using barn owls is simple: install a nest box to attract a pair, and let the barn owls work each night to reduce your rodent pests.

Barn owls are very common in the region, giving San Diego pest control an option that is highly viable, inexpensive, and also helps conserve these beautiful white, golden winged owls. Nest boxes normally achieve 80 to 100% occupancy in their first season or two. Once established, barn owls tend to remain faithful to the area, breeding year after year.