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Stories from the valley

Barn Owls a welcome addition to Our Farm

Contributed by Jonnalee Henderson

Monitoring the activity of an owl box home may seem like a difficult task; it isn’t if you have a 15-foot painters pole, an Iphone, two large binder clips and a very helpful cousin.   Four years ago we placed eight owl boxes around the perimeter of a 145-acre newly planted almond orchard and hoped that would take care of our ever-increasing gopher problem. 

While it did appear that gopher activity declined in the couple of years following the placement of the boxes, I wondered if it was a coincidence.  I never knew if the boxes actually had barn owls…until last year.

Inspired by a thesis done by my cousin’s wife on using owl boxes for natural predator control, last year James Watson and I set out to see if any owls were populating the boxes.  This was the plan: clip the Iphone to the painters pole, push the record button, lift the pole to the opening of the box, wait 5 seconds while scanning the box, bring the pole down and watch the video. Except for the few owls we could hear hissing at us, we never knew if owls were present until we watched the video. 

To our great surprise, we found barn owls peering (or hissing) back at us in seven of the eight boxes. Better yet, most had multiple owls, eggs and/or babies present in one box.  I was amazed!

This year we recorded activity in the boxes twice, once on March 30 and then again last Friday, April 17.  Sure enough the same seven boxes had owls present.  Last Friday we captured the best video yet: owlets just hours old with more eggs still to be hatched! 

In addition to the owls living in the boxes, hawks perch on top of the boxes during the day.  Evidently owls don’t like homes near freeways because the box nearest to the freeway is the only home that never has owls–and subsequently is the part of the ranch where we find the most gopher holes and squirrel damage!

We limit our videos to just a few seconds and we haven’t yet returned again for fear of scaring the owls away but we are planning a follow-up visit in a couple of weeks.