By Marj Blackwell
Hey Barn Owls! Two new custom-built family homes have been installed on eucalyptus trees in your favorite hunting grounds in Oakland and await your arrival.
The new nest box homes are located within a half-mile of your longtime, current nesting site — a shallow cavity, high in a palm tree near Mountain View Cemetery. We thought it was time to provide some new safer housing for your offspring.
The well-constructed boxes are based on a design by Steve Simmons, renowned designer/builder of nest boxes for Wood Ducks, Barn Owls and other birds in the Central Valley. They were built by Bill Blackwell, an expert wood craftsman, who followed Simmons’ detailed design instructions to a T. The boxes are made of exterior plywood, measure 24 x 16 x 12 inches, and weigh 24 pounds apiece. Each has two hinged doors (one for cleaning, one for monitoring), an interior divider, an elliptical entrance hole, and grip grooves instead of a perch.
Finding the right sites for your new nest boxes took considerable research and time. First was the search for strong, straight tree trunks that face open areas near the rodent-populated hillsides in Mountain View Cemetery. Surprisingly, a few property owners rejected the idea of nest boxes on their trees. Finally, I located an ideal eucalyptus tree on private property adjacent to the cemetery, and another eucalyptus tree in nearby St. Mary Cemetery, with permission willingly granted by both property owners.
It took the super skill and strength of Golden Gate Audubon volunteers Doug Mosher and Carla Din, with the help of Berkeley resident Mike Bull, to lift and install the bulky boxes eight feet above ground. Not only did this hardy team ensure the boxes are securely bolted to the trees and perfectly level, they also filled the floors with wood chips to prevent eggs from rolling around.
So now, Mr. and Mrs. Barn Owl, when it comes time for you to start nest hunting in early spring, we hope you will check out these new homes and give one a try. We know you and your lifetime mate always return to the same nesting site, but the boxes definitely are safer for your owlets than a palm tree cavity. Or hopefully, when your offspring look for a home, they will find one of the boxes.
Sadly, we know that in addition to a shortage of nesting sites, the drought has had a serious impact on your reproduction. According to Steve Simmons, 48 boxes that he monitors at a Central Valley ranch dropped from 96 percent occupancy in 2012 to 39 percent in the 2014 season.
But we’re optimistic that we can help your numbers increase — especially if more Bay Area Barn Owl lovers are inspired to provide additional nest box homes for you in the East Bay hills.
Want to build your own Barn Owl box? Click here to download Steve Simmons’s excellent directions on the Santa Clara Valley Audubon web site.
Marj Blackwell, a former GGAS board member and board president, appreciates the many opportunities she has had to learn about birds and birding through the dedicated and skilled GGAS field trip leaders, class instructors and staff. She continues to volunteer for GGAS and is a member of the East Bay Conservation Committee.