Sold! Realtors Take On The Owl Housing Market

Photo © Melton Team Real Estate

by Robyn Bailey, NestWatch Project Leader

What happens when a husband-and-wife real estate team decides to improve the housing market for their local Barred Owl population? In this case, research, hard work, and patience eventually led to their success! Bryant and Erin Melton of Virginia decided to build a home for Barred Owls after noticing some owl activity on their property. Being in the real estate business, they started researching comparables and found our Barred Owl Nest Box Plan. Of course, they had to improve its curb appeal by adding an exterior cedar shake siding for a beautiful rustic look. With that HGTV-worthy upgrade, the box was ready to be placed.


Location, Location, Location!

Hanging With The Birds
Hanging With The Birds

A professional tree climber safely mounts the box.

At first, Bryant tried to use a hunter’s tree climber to mount the box in a tree. That didn’t go well—he dropped the box from several feet off the ground. Realizing it was time to call in professional help, he contacted a local tree care worker to install the box. The pro climber mounted the box at 22′, cleared some branches from the entrance, added bedding material, and drilled some drainage holes in the bottom (oops, an overlooked detail), all while hanging from a rope in mid-air! The Barred Owl box was officially on the market!

My Dream Home!
My Dream Home!

A gray squirrel adopts the luxurious home and raises a family within.

However, the timing wasn’t quite right, and the Meltons had missed the owl nesting window by a few months. In 2017, the box became a luxury squirrel condo, bustling with activity. Two baby squirrels were raised in it that year, and their antics were enjoyed by everyone who saw them. Eventually the squirrel family left, and the house was once again available. The tree climber was again summoned to clean the box and refresh the bedding material.


At last, owl occupants

The Three Kiddos
The Three Kiddos

Three nestlings emerged from the box on April 29, 2018.

The following January (2018), right on time for Barred Owl nesting season, Erin and Bryant began watching the box. Sure enough, they found a Barred Owl visitor sitting on the perch, peeking in the entrance hole. It was not long after that they were treated to views of three Barred Owl nestlings jostling for a position in the entrance hole. All three fuzzballs successfully left the box.

The Meltons report that, unfortunately, watching this nest was not without its perils. Sadly, one of the fledglings was taken by a group of Red-shouldered Hawks. Another of the fledglings fell about 50′ from a tree it was climbing, and although harrowing to watch, it did survive. Owlets often leave their nest before they can fly, and climbing and falling is part of life.


Two Nestlings Play Bite
Two Nestlings Play Bite

A nestling grabs its sibling's beak.

Getting Ready for your open house

Erin and Bryant cherish the memories of their first owl nesting and can now say they’ve broken into the avian housing market. Here are some lessons from their experience that we hope you’ll find helpful if you choose to undertake a similar project:

  • Do your research. Find nest box plans on our website that suit your local habitat and are species-appropriate.
  • Know when outside help is needed. Don’t risk injury if you’re not comfortable on a ladder or climbing trees. Owl boxes are generally quite heavy and could seriously injure you or a bystander if dropped.
  • Be patient. If you don’t get the intended resident right away, don’t worry. It can take some time before the right “buyer” comes along.
  • Be prepared for reality. It can be very hard to accept when a bird you’ve been watching every day perishes. It’s okay to have strong feelings about it, but please know that this is natural. Many more baby birds hatch each year than can possibly survive. The post-fledging period is one of the riskiest times in a bird’s life. Being sad is a normal response, but don’t disengage from nature if this happens to you. It is a privilege to watch them and learn about their world, helping in whatever ways we can.

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9 Comments

  1. Jay M Sheppard says:

    Super great story.

    Owl Boxes are best erected in late fall. All cavity nesting owls start looking for potential nests during the winter. (Some owls in the West are migratory and do not look for cavities until they return in early spring…) Have all your owl boxes up before Christmas!

  2. Diana Hitchcock says:

    With all the chaos going on in our country right now, it’s nice to hear a story about caring people and beautiful owls. Thank you for sharing the story and the photos, it gives me hope.

  3. Rick Galat says:

    My experience with Barred Owl Boxes has mostly been rewarding but it’s important to note that Barred Owls with continue to nest in the same box or same tree cavity until something tragic happens. This could be predators invading the nest box like fishers or raccoons or the box is not constructed out of durable materials and will eventually rot and fall to the ground like one of mine did after being used for over 20 years. I found it’s best to select a tree that’s isolated from others so that if you install a predator guard that will inhibit reaching the nest box from the ground, an agile predator like a fisher can’t climb an adjacent tree and access the nest box by leaping across a connecting branch. If you’re going to construct a nest box out of common wood materials such as pine or cedar, plan on that box lasting a maximum of 10 years of service and replace it before it has an opportunity to rot and fall to the ground. its very rewarding to have utilize nesting cavities that we create but in by doing so we are assuming some responsibility for their fate. Best of luck to anyone of you who pursue this endeavor!

  4. Tina says:

    We have used your plans for a screech owl box and put up late fall, year one did not attract owls, but did attract a pair of crested flycatchers. We enjoyed watching 4 chicks hatch and missed their fledging. Year two, no owls or flycatchers, but they are near. We were disappointed until we saw a black snake visiting the box. Then we were glad they didn’t choose the site. I don’t think we could have emotionally dealt with seeing the snake get the babies. I know it’s the circle of life, but too hard to witness.

  5. Vaughn says:

    What kind of nesting materials are needed? Don’t owls bring those in?

  6. Margaret Frook says:

    What a well written cute article. A great story to read to your kids!

  7. Carol Blaser says:

    What a lovely article and the pictures are great! I love owls and watch the cams each year. This fancy house is spectacular! Wish I had the time and money to make one myself. Kudos to this family for getting involved and providing a place for nesting owls.

  8. Holly Faulkner says:

    Hi Vaughn, Owls usually don’t have much in the way of nesting materials, but if you build your own box, you should place 3-4″ if wood shavings in the bottom to mimic a tree cavity. More details about building your own Barred Owl box are linked above in the story, and here: https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/birds/barred-owl/

  9. Lisa Peterson says:

    Great story, loved the pictures! We live in Orlando and have lots of barred owls. We have one on our block that gets harassed on a regular basis by the crows, so we built him a house from the Cornell plans. We just put it up so no tenants yet, but all these tips are very helpful. It looks like we should not expect any nesters til January at the earliest. My only concern is that we live in a suburban neighborhood. I hope the box is not too near our activity, although we do see the owl around on his own so it must be okay. My heart will burst if I ever get to see some little heads poking out of the box one, day, fingers crossed!

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