The owl is one of the least documented species set in the bird kingdom. Not only is it a nocturnal creature, but its soft wings allow it to fly with virtual silence, making it hard to track. Additionally, most owls have neutral colors, shades of black, grey, white, and brown. These colors make it difficult to see owls at night, as they sometimes look like shadows and moonlight.
But all of these challenges are also why owls of all species are becoming more popular among bird watchers. Wandering the forest or meadow at night is one way to chance upon an one, and stationing yourself in a known location is another. But creating an owl sanctuary is a way in which you can both observe the owl and help improve its environment.
The world is home to between 220 and 225 different known species of owls. And not surprisingly, the different kinds of owls have many preferences. To have the best chances of attracting an owl to this new sanctuary, you need to know as much as you can about it. Learn the following information:
Your research skills are particularly important for this stage. Owls have vastly differing nesting habits. For instance, while a barn owl might nest inside a box, a great horned owl requires an open platform.
You can locate specific instructions by googling “build [owl name] house” or by speaking with an ornithologist who specializes in owls.
The house should be made of natural materials whenever possible, and you should not paint it. The more natural the house looks, the more likely the owl will use it. Since most owls have a very large territory, they can be quite choosy when it comes to homes.
For best results, make sure that you mount the house at least 100 feet from your home or any active areas. Owls are shy, and they will not settle in places where they do not feel safe.
Around the time of the owl’s nesting season, scatter soft material such as imitation fur, frayed yarn, and the like around the nearby area. While you cannot guarantee that owls will use these pieces, they will at least have the opportunity. To increase the likelihood that the owls will gather the materials, set them out just before dusk in branches and bushes.
Most of the time, owls prefer to hunt their own food. They like to have it fresh as often as they can, but some owls will not turn their beaks up at a free meal. You can construct a feeding platform by building a simple structure at least four feet off the ground. It can be made of metal so you can sterilize it.
After the platform is prepared, then scatter chunks of raw meat on the top. This meat can be any kind, and it may even contain bone. Depending on the type of owl, the owl may rely on scent as much as sight. If that is the case, then the meat will likely attract it. Be careful how much you put out though. Saw-whet and boreal owls will gather and store food in caches near their homes, which could lead to unpleasant scents. Also remember to keep an eye out to see whether you are attracting any other visitors, such as coyotes and raccoons.
The other essential component which the owls will be interested in is water. If there is not a pond or river within 200 feet of the owl house, then you need to prepare a water source. A regular bird bath or basin will work fine, but be sure that it is not so close to the house that the owl droppings will contaminate it. Clean out the basin, and change the water regularly.
You cannot be certain when the owl is going to be active or move into the sanctuary you have prepared for it. Expect establishment to take awhile. But set up a place to watch nonetheless. To do this effectively, you will need:
If this sanctuary is in your backyard, then setting up your station on the back porch might work if you have good vision. Otherwise, you should consider setting up a position at least 25 feet away. You will need to sit still while you watch and avoid making disturbances.
Owls can be very shy and tentative about new locations. It could take awhile for one to decide that it wants to take up residence in the new home you have offered. One of the ways that you can encourage an owl to come is to play a recording of the owl’s mating call or make the call yourself if you have the talent. The owl will likely investigate out of curiosity and may choose to stay.
Above all, be patient. Some of the easiest owls to attract are barn owls, barred owls, and screech owls. Horned owls are some of the hardest to attract.