Hoo, who do you want in your tree?

 Barn owl
 Barred owl
 Great horned owl
 Northern pygmy owl,
courtesy of Greg Gilson
 Western screech owl

Helpful tips for supporting owls via artifical nesting habitat:

1. Owls eat rodents for the most part.  Every habitat seems to be rodent habitat to some extent so there’s not much you can do to increase the food resource.  If you have some edge habitat with trees growing next to open grass, that can be a good place to see owls hunt.  They’ll rest in the forest, and then move to the edges to hunt the open ground at dusk.   They will eat small birds sometimes, but typically birds are inactive at night when the owls are hunting.

2. Common owls in our region: great horned, barred, barn, and western screech.  Barred, barn, and screech owls nest in cavities often.  Owl boxes can be good for these species, but if the box has a big hole, that may be good for barred owls but not screech owls.  A small hole could be good for the screech but not the barred, so some variety  in hole size may help your chances of getting owls.  The owls would likely have been using these boxes over the last couple of months and could still be using them to raise young right now.  Great horned owls will use next boxes some, but they also frequently nest in abandoned hawk and squirrel nests – so they don’t always focus on the cavities.  Barn owls really like the nest boxes, but if there are numerous barns in the area, they truly do use the rafters as habitat too and may not be looking for natural or artificial cavities in the forest.  Even a small hole in a barn can allow the barn owl to enter and exit the barn.

3. If you have lots of large dead trees or snags, the owls may find cavities in those and use them instead of artificial boxes.

4. You can monitor the boxes to make sure raccoons are not using them instead of the owls.

5. Try changing the orientation on boxes.  Example, if they face north now, try facing them south to see if that changes anything.  Not sure about owls, but bats are more likely to use SE facing boxes because they warm up more quickly in the morning.  Facing boxes towards clearings and away from prevailing winds can help.

6. Plant some conifers if you don’t have many.  Douglas-fir and western redcedar can be good trees for owls because they can find cover and hide out a bit in the winter when the deciduous trees have no leaves.

7. Attracting songbirds or owls to nest boxes can be difficult and sometimes just requires a bit of luck.  They are territorial, so if a neighbor mentions having owls, you may not have any on your property just because they are giving another breeding pair some space to avoid altercations.

For more information on Oregon owls, please visit Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife:  http://www.dfw.state.or.us/species/birds/owls.asp