Clive and Dana's Owls

Clive writes —

Our bungalow in Oadby, a suburb of Leicester, backs on to a tree-lined washbrook. The nearest open land is 1/2 mile away, but we get a wonderful diversity of birdlife in and around our garden, including resident nuthatches, green and great spotted woodpeckers, as well as visiting kingfishers which use the washbrook as a flyway to raid garden ponds of their goldfish.

We have also had resident tawny owls and have heard the wheezy calls of the owlets in June/July practically every summer. The owls used to nest in an old willow tree behind our neighbour's garden. Each year we have lost a few trees through wind damage or Council tidy-ups of dangerously leaning limbs. For this reason I decided it would be worth putting up an owl box. We have an ash tree with a fork about 20 feet up that looked a suitable host. The box was made from old 6 inch wide fence palings and measured some 1 x 1 x 2 ft overall. Making the box was the easy part, but erecting it required the services of a rock-climbing colleague (photo at left).

We put the box up in September 2007 and spotted our first owl in residence on 20th January 2008 at 8.30 am. Four grey squirrels were running up and down the trunk making quite a racket, with the owl peering on. Three days later the squirrels had taken over, and they used the box as a winter roost for the rest of the season.

In November 2008 the squirrels were back in the box. We'd heard tawny owls calling from September that year and presumed they had settled back in the willow tree. On 26 March 2009 our neighbour called to say she could see a tawny owl's head at the entrance of the box. We watched the adult owl for three evenings running, each time he/she appeared at the entrance at around 7.15 pm and waited about 30 minutes until dusk before leaving the nest box. One evening I attempted to photograph the owl from a hide about 30 feet from the box, but it got too dark to see anything. Just for the record I took a 10 second exposure, only to find the owl was there and sitting perfectly still with eyes directed at me presumably alerted by the camera shutter (photo at right).

On April 5th a full grown owlet appeared at the entrance (indicating that the eggs were laid in early February when we had snow on the ground). The next night a second owlet's head appeared and an adult owl visited briefly, bringing a frog for supper. One owlet was seen to leave the box on the evening of 8th April, and the next morning both owlets were sitting in the ash tree above the next box. They got thoroughly wet from the morning's drizzle, but they soon fluffed up once the sun came out.

That evening they dispersed to the neighbour's garden and both adults could be heard nearby. So we had wonderful views of the family for over a week, but we never did see how or when the owls evicted the squirrels from their roost.

powered by owls

Above: The two owlets emerge on a rather wet day (9 April). Below: Click on the thumbnail for a more extensive view of the suburban setting of this nest box. The location of the box is marked by the white X.