HOW TO AT­TRACT NEST­ING TAWNY OWLS

Robert Fuller has put up nearly 200 nest­boxes for owls and kestrels. Here are his top tips.

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KNOW YOUR AREA

Tawny owls live in open wood­land but also large sub­ur­ban gar­dens, parks and ceme­ter­ies. Your suc­cess in at­tract­ing local tawnies will de­pend in part on how many nat­u­ral nest sites there are in the area.

SAFE AND SE­CURE

Don’t make the mis­take of sit­ing owl boxes where you can get a good view – be­ing looked at is the last thing an owl wants. For breed­ing suc­cess, tawnies need to feel safe: they’re very sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­tur­bance.

THE RIGHT SPOT

Place the nest­box on a ma­ture de­cid­u­ous tree at least 3m off the ground, with branches nearby for fledg­ling chicks to climb onto. It needs to be shel­tered from the rain, pre­vail­ing winds and sun.

SIZE MAT­TERS

Many com­mer­cial tawny owl nest­boxes are too small, usu­ally just 25cm2 at the base. They’re too cramped for fledglings to flap or for the adults to sit to­gether dur­ing courtship and egg lay­ing. They also tend to have the nest cav­ity at the bot­tom of a tall box, mak­ing it hard for adults to get in with­out dam­ag­ing their tails or land­ing on their eggs.

AVOID THE TUBE

Tube-shaped nest­boxes that are de­signed to be strapped un­der a branch, also present prob­lems. Their open tops mean there’s no cover from the rain and if they get too wet, the bases of th­ese boxes of­ten rot.

NEST­ING MA­TE­RIAL

Tawny owls seem to pre­fer nest­boxes de­signed for kestrels – they’re big­ger than owl boxes but are too easy for owlets to climb out of. My own de­sign (above) is big­ger than a typ­i­cal owl box, with a base that’s at least 30 x 35cm, and an el­e­vated en­trance to keep owlets in­side un­til they’re ready to fledge. The lower door lets me add wood chip­pings for nest­ing ma­te­rial.

UN­WANTED GUESTS

Jack­daws and grey squir­rels of­ten colonise owl nest­boxes. There is no sim­ple so­lu­tion to this. You just have to clear out any ma­te­rial th­ese hi­jack­ers put in un­til you have res­i­dent owls that will then hope­fully chase their ri­vals away.

A help­ing hand: with luck, tawny owls will move into your box

You’ll need to add nest­ing ma­te­rial as tawny owls don’t gather it

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