Selecting Safe Installation Sites
- For Barn Owl Boxes
The information here will help you determine if boxes are appropriate for your site, and also how to select the safest installation locations.
A good site and installation will not only help your chances of attracting owls to your box, but will also help ensure that it will be as successful as possible for both you and the owls for years to come. Unfortunately there is no 100% guarantee that boxes will be occupied, but a good installation will give you the best chance possible. Please read the following topics to help you determine if boxes are appropriate and to help find the safest places to install them.
Generally, the Barn Owl's habitat consists of open spaces, such as fields, meadows and marshes. However, they can be found in urban areas as well, especially when open spaces are within a few miles. Densely wooded areas are usually unsuitable.
No rodenticides (rodent poisons) can be in use on the property, inside or outside. A single poisoned rodent can potentially wipe out an entire owl family. If rodenticides have been in use on the property, boxes can be installed with a minimum of 3 months since the last use. If possible, confirm that any adjacent neighbors are not using poisons as well. We always encourage an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, such as exclusion and trapping. Please view our "7 Steps to Non-Toxic Pest Control" for more information.
Owls can be noisy in and around their nests at night, especially during baby season. Some people may be comfortable with owl sounds within earshot of their home, but as a general rule of thumb, we recommend keeping around 100' of distance from the nesting box and any bedrooms. The sounds may range from screeches and squawks to clicks and hisses and many others in between.
Boxes Installed on Posts
Boxes installed on posts are typically a little more successful than boxes installed in trees. They have a higher occupancy rate, are usually occupied quicker (they are often easier for the owls to find), and are better at keeping the owls safe from predators and pests. Try to make sure there is enough flat ground in front of your post installed box for an orchard ladder to rest to provide safer access for cleaning etc. It is best if there is a tree within 30' of box and within view of the entrance hole for fledglings to fly to, but make sure there are no branches or anything that can provide access for predators and pests within 5' of box. Try to face your box towards an open space so the owls can find it easier and have a clear flight path in and out. Never lean a ladder against your post installed box or its support.
Boxes Installed in Trees
Nesting boxes can work in trees as well, but are typically trickier than post installed boxes. Look for a mature tree, ideally with a vertically straight trunk. We recommend installing boxes 9' - 12' off the ground. It is very important that there be no branches around the box and none below it. Either select a spot free of branches or clear out branches around box. Try to keep 5' - 10' of space from any branches or anything that can provide access to box for predators and pests. Keeping the box below the canopy can help avoid squirrels. 3' of metal flashing around the base of the tree, 1' above the ground will help deter access from the ground. Try to face your box towards an open space so the owls can find it easier and have a clear flight path in and out.
Avoid facing box opening towards prevailing winds or weather. Avoid facing box southwesterly or towards afternoon sun (unless the box is shaded from the afternoon sun). There is no direction that the owls prefer.
Heat & Shade
Heat can be a serious threat to Barn Owls and especially Barn Owl chicks. It is ideal to have a bit of shade for your box, but we understand that this is not always possible. For boxes that are to be installed in exposed areas with lots of direct sun (especially afternoon sun), install our lighter colored boxes, which are better at reflecting heat. Please make sure your box has a sunroof (HOP built boxes come with sunroofs standard). Also for areas of high heat and sun, add an additional shade panel to the southwestern side of your box. We sell these simple panels or can provide plans to build your own.
Traffic/Activity/Disturbance Around Box
While Barn Owls can be found nesting in a wide variety of locations, both isolated and busy, it is best to select and area for your box that will have the least amount of potential disturbance as you can. It is possible to disturb nesting owls to the point that they abandon their nest, eggs or even chicks. Startling noises or activities are the most dangerous, such as turning on a weed whacker right next to the box or banging on the box or it's support. For boxes in trees, avoid tree work except during November, which is the time that Barn Owls are least likely to be around. If emergency tree work is required, please contact HOP first. Keep weed whacking, mowing or any noisy or potentially disturbing activity a minimum of 30' away from box. And never peek into your box!
Great Horned Owls
While the territory of Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls can overlap, the much larger GHO can potentially prey upon Barn Owls. If you regularly have Great Horned Owls in the area, nesting or hunting, it may not be a safe place to try to attract Barn Owls too. However, if Barn Owls are already also in the area, our boxes can provide safe nesting for them as they are sized to allow Barn Owls in and keep Great Horned Owls out. Great Horned Owls are the owls that make the common "hoo-hoo" sound that most people identify as an owl and usually prefer more densely wooded habitat (although they can also be found all over the place).
Roads & Highways
Install boxes away from busy roads and highways. Barn Owls are a low flying owl and frequently fall victim to busy roads, highways and freeways.
Power Lines & Utility Poles
NEVER install boxes on power lines or utility poles. They can be incredibly dangerous for Barn Owls and utility companies do not want nesting boxes attached to utility poles. If a bird is killed by a power line, please contact your local utility company. Most commonly, they will need to retrofit the line and poles on either side.
Swimming Pools & Bodies of Water
Keep nesting boxes at least 100' away from swimming pools and other bodies of water and ideally, out of line of sight with the box. Owl fledgelings and chicks are at risk of drowning in close bodies of water. Please keep swimming pools covered at night.
Cleaning & Maintenance
Boxes should be cleaned annually within the October to November window as this is the time of the year when the owls are least likely to be present. Any needed maintenance or tree work can be completed during this time as well. Please view our cleaning and maintenance page for more information.
Installing multiple boxes is encouraged and will increase your chances of occupancy. Having multiple occupied boxes will increase the amount of rodent control coverage you receive. Owl populations can naturally fluctuate from year to year, so do not be surprised if some years are slower than others. Once your occupancy rate has reached 80%, adding more boxes can help your population continue to grow and will help your overall coverage.