Tuesday 28 November 2017

North Northumberland again........ nest boxes in trees for barn owls.

The Coquet Valley around Alwinton and Harbottle is a patch work of woodland, hedgerows and grassland much of it rough grazing, ideal for voles and barn owls. Drive two or three miles after dark and you are sure to see a white owl perched on a fence post or hunting silently over the grassland.

The ideal tree in the ideal site in the Coquet Valley
Food supply is probably as good as it gets for most of the year but nesting sites can be few and far between. Before barns, the owls used holes in large old trees they still do of course when available.. Modern farm buildings tend to be enclosed and bird proof. Many of the big old trees have gone with the ancient woodland and hedgerows so purpose made nest boxes can be a big help.

The nest boxes have to be big enough, weatherproof and in the right place. For a detailed plan of the best design take a look at the Barn Owl Trust website. bear in mind it took me three days in the workshop to build and paint this one. I'm obsessive about the carpenter's mantra,"measure twice, cut once"!Barn Owl Trust Nest box plans

Where to put it? For a start well away from fast roads ( not a problem up the Coquet), it doesn't have to be adjacent to rough grazing the owls will commute to work but I guess, the closer the better. The tree itself should be relatively free of branches low down so that the owl can actually see the entrance hole, a straight stem with few side branches around the box is ideal. The fledglings need to hop about near the box. Four metres above ground level provides security from most predators, until the Coquet has it's own population of pine martens.

This box is designed so that it doesn't have to be tied to the tree there is a secure integral hooking device, a wooden spar that hooks over another piece of timber screwed to the tree. I should add, barn owls don't build nests or carry nesting materials they use the regurgitated owl pellets as bedding. Most people don't have a ready supply of these (Hamsa does, he keeps them in his freezer with the dead mice) two buckets full of a dry horticultural compost and wood shavings is a good substitute to get them started.

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