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!
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!
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 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.
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.