Since our owl nest box overflowed with litter in 2011, we stared cleaning it out every year beginning for the babies of 2012. It became a tradition to empty it out every year at Thanksgiving, after the young owls had moved on, in preparation for use in the spring. This last year on 11/24/16, we got a surprise. When we started lowering the box, an owl flew out! We thought it was roosting in there because of the cooler weather. But when the box tilted we heard two cracks against the side. Shocked to see eggs inside, we put it right back up…. and waited to see what happened. The eggs were due to hatch at Christmas time.The mating behavior continued through early December and the female owl stayed in the nest box every night. Since they normally lay 3 to 5 eggs, we hoped that even if the two were damaged, it would be OK. The female was nervous after that… leaving the box and making noises in the palm tree when we weed whipped below. The weather since then has been rainy and cold… frosty even. After receiving 6 inches of rain in the last week or so, I was finally able to sit out and listen last night. It’s official! There are definitely baby owls in there. The female flew out to hunt with her mate, leaving the young alone for awhile. I could hear at least 2 or 3 baby owls screeching inside.
As to why they are breeding during the winter, I have a theory. Our last brood of young owls left last June. We also have a neighbor with owl boxes that had several babies during that time, so there were lots of owls looking for new territory. In late July, there was another couple of owls that were trying take over the nest box and our resident pair were very upset! There was fighting like I’ve never seen before. Screeching (even during the day) and going after each other like crazy! I think that this may be a new couple, and they wanted to breed and make the box their own as soon as possible. Be sure to stay tuned…
The five baby owls that hatched this year have all fledged and are roosting in our palms trees. The first three started early, and the youngest two struggled to keep up. Our front yard is still ‘home base’ for the young owls as they continue to improve their flying techniques. It’s obvious they love each other as they twitter and snuggle… encouraging one another to try new things. The parents aren’t far away and one occasionally stops by the nest box with a dead rodent and the babies let out a screech and fly there to get it. Whoever grabs it first, hops from branch to branch, trying to keep it away from its siblings, until it can swallow it. This brood of owlets have been pretty quiet so far, which indicates they have been well fed. That should change soon, as the parents withhold food as incentive to teach their babies to hunt their own prey.
Yesterday was the first day that the female owl didn’t roost in with the young ones. She was seen here during the day this past week, on the lookout for predators. The usual suspect being our cat, Buddy. Check out the video of her screeching at him. The babies seemed well behaved last night… pretty quiet without their mother around all day. She had been leaving at sunset for the past several nights to help her mate hunt. That tells us that the smallest owlet can swallow a mouse whole now (yipee!). We’ve been hearing them a lot lately… at least three distinct voices when they screech and hiss. They will be poking their heads out soon, and stepping out to practice flapping. Stay tuned…
There are a total of three baby owls this season, and all are flying very well. There weren’t any crash landings or other mishaps as far as we know. Each one can fly back and forth to the pine tree branches with ease. Then they take test flights around the neighborhood, practicing their take offs and landings. Last night only one came out of the nest box… the other two were roosting in the trees. This batch of owlets are still more quiet than normal, which is a good thing.
This young owl was stretching and admiring his wing, when he almost fell off the perch (see video).
It’s unusual for the young owls to come out of the nest box during the middle of the day, but this one came out in the afternoon for a look around and to use the facilities… potty trained already! (see video)
After sunset last night, the first baby owl came out to practice flapping its wings (they look so big already!). Two more babies tried to get out there… they were all trying to stay close to the door and flap at the same time, and they got all tangled up in each other. The next morning these two were still out at 6am… too excited to go to bed (see video). These siblings speak to each other in strange soft high pitched lyrical sounds. That’s different than prior years owlets, who preferred screeching loudly.
The largest baby owl watches me walk around the yard in the mornings. When I talk to it, it bobs its head sideways… so cute! (see Facebook feed for video).Â They have been a pretty quiet batch this year, which means they have been well fed. Yesterday a huge vulture was perched on top of the nest box. It scared the baby owls and we shooed it away. Being scavengers, it was unlikely it would attack, but you never know. Could it have been attracted by some uneaten rotting vermin in there?
The baby owls are getting big. We’re still not sure how many there are… it sounds like 3 or more. They are flapping their wings and running around in there (see video on Facebook Feed). After dark they have been seen tentatively stepping out onto the porch. It won’t be long until they start learning how to fly!
We can see the baby owls peeking out of the nest box now. They are fuzzy looking with darker faces, and are getting so tall! Mama owl stays close by while her mate hunts for dinner. He could be seen delivering a big rat a short time later. He just threw it in there and the owlets tore it apart.
Mama owl roosted in the palm tree for the first time in a long time. She has been in with the baby owls for weeks, and comes out every night about 8pm to stretch her wings, before flying out to hunt. But tonight, she was heard screeching at our cat, Buddy about 7pm. It was too early for her to be out… plenty of daylight left, but she was nervous about him walking around under the nest box, and had flown down to tell him all about it. I thought she may be over-reacting, but reconsidered when she dive-bombed him, and he jumped up about 3 feet off the ground to take a swipe at her! Buddy has kept the squirrels out of our apple trees, and is a good mouser… but our barn owls are off limits! We are planning to lock him up at night when the babies first start to fly… just in case. After we brought the cat in, Mama owl calmed down and flew back up into the palm tree. Later she flew back down to the pine tree and was followed by her mate a short time later.
04/20/15: We can hear little owl voices in the nest box in the evenings and the mother owl can be seen sleeping in there with them today. She has been the only owl flying in the front yard lately as we haven’t seen her mate in over a week. Because barn owls mate for life, it’s very unusual that he is not roosting in our palm trees… and we fear that something has happened to him. There are Great Horned owls in the area and they are barn owl predators. Hopefully the young owls are old enough to be uncovered for lengths of time while she struggles to provide enough food as a single parent.
Update 04/23/15: The last couple of nights, we’ve noticed another owl sneaking out the back side of the palm tree, heading in the opposite direction. So, the male owl is around after all! This behavior is different from past owl couples… where the male owl checked in with the female before going out to hunt and communicated more in general. She seems nervous and over protective, and he is fairly aloof. But the babies sound louder… indicating they are growing, so we think all is well.
Last year was the first time in 6 years that barn owls did not raise babies in our nest box. We’re not sure why they didn’t lay eggs last summer. Maybe the drought affected them? Or it was nature’s way of controlling the population? We’ve watched them raise 21 baby owls in 5 years in our box, plus there was another pair that laid eggs in a tree around the corner in 2013. That prompted a neighbor in that area to put up an owl box. There was a lot of owl activity in both of our boxes last year… but no baby owls. This year looks promising. The female has been roosting in the box since February 11th. The male has been feeding her in there, so we think she’s laying eggs. He swoops down from the palm tree every night at sunset… goes inside and they make noises and move around for a minute before he takes off down the canyon to hunt.
More about owls
An amazing program on KQED
At the extreme North/East corner of the grounds of Nest Egg Gardens, resides a old dilapidated picnic bench, weathered and peeling. Not as popular as it used to be… this high spot, above the chicken shed has a nice sunset view, up over the roof of the homestead. The palm trees provide roosting space for a pair of barn owls, who fly out at dusk and soar up and down the canyon every night.
It’s been 1 month since this kitten showed up on our doorstep, and we’re crazy about him. He’s been busy hunting (lizards – his current specialty). Bought him some fake mice, but they keep ending up on Reo‘s bed…covered with slobber.Â Found him in the garage today having his way with a recently trapped gopher that I had ‘disposed of’. He’s shaping up to be a better hunter than our current cat Rose, and just might earn his keep around here patrolling rodents.
The three baby barn owls that hatched in this nest box are growing up fast, and are now learning how to hunt. They usually stay in the area until late in the year, when we assume they venture off to find their own territories.
Barn owls have been roosting in our two Mexican palm trees for years. The dead palm fronds (aka petticoat) provide a perfect sheltered spot out of the sun and wind, but with plenty of perches and room to move around. Recently, we saw newly planted grape vineyards with palm trees along the perimeter, and wondered if it was to attract these amazing nocturnal predators. Look under palm trees with petticoats for owl pellets (balls of regurgitated rodent fur & bones) to see if owls roost there.
When we heard a couple of owls doing a lot of screeching and noticed shredded material dropping out of the trees back in 2008, we erected a nesting box on a 20 foot pole. Since then, the owls have been laying eggs and raising their young in the nest box every summer. Pictures and stories were posted on our old website here.