Do you enjoy seeing birds in your yard? Attracting new birds is not only fun, but also can improve your garden in some interesting ways. Owls aren’t that common in backyards, but you may get them to nest in your landscape if you understand what they need.
Owls that live in Western North Carolina
North Carolina is home to barn owls, barred owls, great horned owls, and Eastern screech owls. In a yard in Western North Carolina, though, you’re most likely to get screech owls in a backyard nest box.
What do owls have to do with gardening?
All owls found in our area feed on small mammals, including critters that can be garden pests, such as mice! Owls may also eat insects, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds—some of which are also unwelcome in our gardens.
How to attract owls
Owls don’t build nests. Instead, they look for places such as tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker nest holes to lay eggs and raise owlets. You can attract owls by providing nest boxes. You can buy or build a nest box sized for Eastern screech owls. If you put up your box by March, you’ll be ready for this year’s nesting season! Cornell University’s “All about Birdhouses” website provides detailed information about how to build and/or place a nest box and protect it from predators.
Owls not only need trees to nest, they also appreciate trees with sturdy branches no more than 6 to 10 feet from the ground to hunt from—and of course a food supply that your backyard garden provides if you leave some rough areas and avoid using pesticides.
How owls spend their days—and nights!
Owls are most active at night or just at sunset and dawn. They feed on what passes underneath their perches or what they can catch on the fly. Once screech owl females lay eggs, they stay on the nest most of the day and night and their male partners feed them and the owlets, once hatched.
So why go to the trouble of trying to attract owls, if you are unlikely to see much of them during the day? You can hear owls calling both day and night. Although you may think that the only thing owls say is something that sounds like “Who? Who?” Eastern screech owls have a variety of calls they use to sing to each other and communicate to defend their territories.
You can find out a lot about owls by looking at the pellets they leave. What owls can’t digest—bones, feather, fur—they regurgitate (“throw up”)! Screech owls will usually produce these pellets daily; look on the ground where they roost to find pellets. Use CAUTION—Do not handle pellets with your bare hands and always have help from an adult in looking at their contents. Follow guidelines (below) for safe handling. You may be able to identify some of the creatures living in your garden that are feeding your owls.
Article written by Debbie Green, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.
Owls: Working with Wildlife
Describes owls in North Carolina and provides recommended dimensions for nest boxes.
Eastern Screech Owl: Nest Box Plan and Information
Learn how to build a nest box for owls.
All About Birds: Eastern Screech Owl
Learn about owls’ habitat, food, and behavior; get backyard tips; watch a video and download owl sounds.
Owl Pellets in the Classroom: Safety Guidelines
For a valuable learning experience, follow these instructions to ensure owl pellet analysis is done safely.
Owl Pellet Bone Chart
Match contents of owl pellet to diagrams on chart to identify what the owl ate.