I Do Like An Owl

There is an owl at the Priory.  It’s a tawny owl and I hear it regularly.  From as early as midday  it hoots, often when I’m deep in thought (wondering what I am going to have for my tea) making me jump out of my skin.  (Did I mention that I work alone).   Perched up in  or somewhere behind a stand of ugly, shaggy conifers just below the greenhouse, it taunts me.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time looking out for him (or her).  But it obviously enjoys the tease and hasn’t shown itself yet.
I built it a box.  It was the first nest box I ever built.  I put it up on a grand old oak on the east lawn.   Here it is:
And to my astonishment it was used the very first spring after it went up.
And to my disappointment it was used by a wood pigeon.  I was so incensed, I was going to go and get the tall ladder and a stick from the garage  and poke out the cuckoo from its non-rightful home.  But, whilst I sat scheming and muttering and sipping Earl Grey and smoking rollies (this was before I gave up), I got rather used to watching the adult pigeons carrying sticks inside and then sitting with their big fat heads poking out of the hole, daring me to evict them.  So.  I let them be.
I’ve found quite a few owl pellets in the garden and a dear neighbour from the village asked if she could come and collect some.   She wanted to dissolve them in warm water and show the resultant tiny bones of voles and mice and what have you to schoolchildren.  Whether the latter had any choice in the matter or indeed whether they were in school when the presentation was thrust upon them I don’t know. Perhaps she approached them in sweetshops or emerged from under their beds in the dead of night.  Lovely lady though.
I was very keen to make and erect a barn owl box.  I know that Margaret the Farmer (not her real name), who owns all the surrounding lands about the Priory, has had them roosting in one of her barns.  So they were here even if I’d never seen one.  I’d found an excellent website with all the information I needed in order to make a barn owl palace.  Last summer, whilst mowing, I thought long and hard over the best oak tree to support the box and how I would enjoy watching  the adults swooping down low over the flower meadow.   Then, in the winter with time on my hands, and ready to start making the ‘box, I did a little further research.  Damn.
Barn owls, like so many species of well, anything, are pretty picky.  They need a rather particular hunting habitat.  Grassland, quite a lot of it, that is neither grazed nor mown.  Every year the grass grows to its full height and then in the winter it collapses.  In the spring, fresh grass grows up through this dead grass and, in its turn, collapses.  Over several years a thatch several inches thick builds up.  And here in this deep, sheltered netherworld live the barn owls most particular tasty treat – the field vole. All of the pasture around the Priory is grazed by either Margaret’s sheep or her cows.  And when she can, she cuts the rest for hay.  The flower meadow in the Priory garden is mown in summer after most of the flowers have set seed.  Then I continue to mow it (usually without my dog) through to the first frosts.
There is a patch of untended grassland just up river from the Priory.  It must be knee-deep in voles (going by the above conditions).  But sadly, it is slightly too far away and also far too small.  Ho hum.
Maybe.  Just maybe the tawny will nip into the nest box on the oak before the pigeons this year.  If I can’t have barn owls I will certainly take tawnies.

7 thoughts on “I Do Like An Owl

  1. Hi Simon

    Don't know whether the owl barn was used, must find out. Good luck with your boxes.

    I've tracked down the tawny's roosting tree – but even after it's hooted and I know it's there, I still can't see it. The tree is an old contorted conifer and it's difficult to see anything much when standing below and peering up. Really frustrating.

    And thanks, I'm really pleased that you like the blog. Makes it worthwhile.



  2. Hi David,
    I would guess it could be either… but having never seen it, i'm not really sure. It makes a lot of noise some nights however, so i know it's there, but it never shows up when i go out to look for it. I used two plans from the barn owl trust website.. one is for use in a barn (square shape), and one is for use outside (triangular shape).
    Somebody built a barn just for an owl??? Did an owl family move into it?
    I enjoy your blog by the way Dave… i've added it to my reader so i can keep up to date.


  3. Hi Simon, best of luck to you. Is it barn or tawnies that you're after? What kind of box did you build?

    I very much wanted to put a barn owl box in one of the Priory's outbuildings but as the owners have plans to convert these (and once you have a barn owl in residence they become protected) I realised that wasn't possible.

    A builder was telling me recently how he built a barn for a rich client. The barn was just for barn owls to nest in. Flash, huh? Dave


  4. I've been trying to entice an owl myself… i've bashed a few posts into the ground for it to perch on, i've but an owl box up in the barn, and one in the wood.. i've even left islands of grass in parts of the field just growing wild, hoping that it will bring more mice into the area for them to feed on…. i still only hear it at night when i'm in bed, and have never seen it when out and about on the hunt for it with my torch!! One day i will see it!!


  5. Hi Jason

    Went into the stand of conifers today and hunted around and sure enough found a colection of pellets beneath one paricular tree. So at least I know where the owl roosts. Might get a glimpse of it now.

    Our old house was opposite a wood in which tawnies lived (hunted?) and they did make a racket. Loved it – never saw them though.


  6. Owls are great. We have a few big oaks opposite the house and every year they become the terriroty of an owl, possibly the same one. I've spotted it once or twice during the twilight hours, nothing more than a ghostly apparition, but thrilling non-the-less. I hope you get an owl in the box this year, much more exciting than wood pigeons.


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