Owl Box Project

About Owls

Owls are both fascinating and beautiful animals. Their presence in your garden offers hours of intriguing viewing, Furthermore, they provide an efficient means of pest control. The two most common species in Gauteng are the Barn Owl and the Spotted-eagle Owl. Whilst these owls are strikingly different in appearance, both species exhibit many similar adaptations. These adaptations range from their specially designed wings, which allow them to fly silently whilst listening for prey during flight. Light sensitive eyes enable them to detect prey in low light conditions and it is these complex design features that are the basis for the success of the owl as a species. However, these specialisation means that owls are relatively susceptible to environmental changes and this is where the project comes in. Whilst there is no doubt that there is an Owl population within Gauteng it remains unclear as to how long this will be the case. The key to extracting maximum enjoyment from your owl box is simply INTEREST.  Be interested and observant, otherwise, those golden moments and unforgettable interactions will be missed. The first flights from the box, the youngsters catching insects on the lawn. These moments occur all the time…

 

Breeding

Owls breed from late autumn through summer. However breeding habits are very variable, relying primarily on prey availability and suitable breeding sites, likewise, the number of eggs produced varies dramatically. Barn Owls (Tyto alba) are able to alter their breeding habits in response to prey numbers, the greater the abundance of prey the greater the number of chicks produced, allowing owls to better combat prey population sizes. This is exceedingly useful in controlling populations prone to growth explosions i.e., rodent and insect species. During the period in which the owls breed activity is centred around the box. Food exchanges and vocalisation is common and is a key indication of breeding activity, this is the most exciting period. The owlets leave the box approximately 4-5 weeks after hatching, however, they are poor fliers and very curious which enables one to observe them closely. Youngsters are inclined to perch close to the ground and exhibit all the playfulness of young kittens and watching them play on the lawn is a truly unforgettable experience. During the remainder of the year, the box will see less activity, although once owls have bred in the box the will continue to utilise it year after year. The owls will remain in the vicinity in order to protect their territory of which the box is an important component.   

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Installation and maintenance

EcoSolutions is responsible for the installation and the running of the Urban Owl Box Project. The owl box installation generally takes between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on whether installation is done in a tree or on a gum pole.

Price List

  • Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus) Box, installed: R1 070.00 

  • Barn Owl (Tyto albaBox, installed: R1070.00

  • Spotted Eagle Owl / Barn Owl Box, delivery only: R750.00

  • Annual Service & Subscription Fee: R640.00

  • Callout Fee (depending on nature of callout): R200.00 - R500.00

  • Gum Pole: R290.00

Maintenance

The owl boxes are constructed from recycled plywood which is then weatherproofed with an industrial wood sealant. The thickness of the wood as well as the wood sealant used is designed to give the box an outdoor lifespan of approximately five years or more. Although the box is of a hardy construction an annual maintenance visit is required to re-varnish, replace the substrate, check for signs of wear and monitor occupancy. In occupied boxes, the measuring and ringing of young owls is also undertaken during the service.

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Owl Box Service

 

The most important component in an owl box is not it's design, it's colour or even it's location. It is the pea gravel substrate within the box. This substrate allows owls to form a ''cup'' in which to lay their eggs and raise their young. Without it, the box is not an owl box - it will not be used by owls and is really just a box high up in your tree.

Why does my owl box need to be serviced annually and the substrate replaced?  Owl boxes are designed to replicate a cavity in a tree. Although Johannesburg is well treed, the majority of the trees are alive and unlike dead trees, do not have natural cavities. As a result, your owl box will attract the attention and fill the requirements for many cavity breeding and roosting residents. It is fine for squirrels, Egyptian geese, Genets and other birds to use it out of season. However, these usurpers bring sticks, paper, litter and all sorts of things into the box. Unless these are removed, owls will not utilise your owl box to breed in. Once a year, prior to the owl breeding season, EcoSolutions undertakes to clean out the box and replace the substrate necessary for owl occupation. In addition, your annual service allows us to check that the box is still firmly attached, provide it with a new coat of varnish and make sure that the bee proofing is still intact. Additionally, the service component allows us to seamlessly introduce improved designs, greater expertise and understanding into our programme. If our data reveals that a specific orientation is optimum for successful occupancy, we will implement this during your annual service. 

At EcoSolutions, our data is indicating that if you do not commit to the annual management and service of your owl box, you should perhaps carefully consider the purchase of one. 

While we are servicing your owl box we are also available to check and replace Barbet nesting logs, install bat houses and provide specialised bird food. 

The cost for the servicing of your box is R640.00. To book your owl box service, click here.

 

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Owl Box Occupancy

Probably one of the most frequently asked questions that we receive from prospective and excited clients regarding their new owl box is “How long before we have owls?”  15 years along and this is still a question that we are unable to answer. What we can tell you is based on the 150 plus EcoSolutions owl boxes that are serviced and occupied nationally. We have experienced owls occupying owl boxes within two weeks from the installation date however, this is far from the norm. The large majority of our occupied owl boxes have taken anything from 2 - 5 years before occupancy occurs. That is the reality of it, you could be waiting for 5 years for occupancy to occur; that is if you experience occupancy at all.

The data that we have collected over the course of this project has allowed us to provide you with a blueprint which ensures that everything that can be done to create a viable owl breeding site, has been done. It must be stated that in order for us to collect and interpret data collected through this programme, the unoccupied boxes are just as important to our findings as the occupied ones.

Occupancy trends can be established, areas with low occupancy can be identified and perhaps corrected. It is through the collation of information that this project produces the results that it does. At this stage, one thing that we can say is that our data clearly confirms that the potential occupancy of your owl box is directly related to its annual service and maintenance. 

 

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Owl Box Location

It would be fitting if our data showed a preference by owls for indigenous trees in which to breed. It doesn’t. Pine trees, gum trees, plain trees, oak trees, syringa trees ect. are all suitable for owl box installation. As are many indigenous trees. We have occupied owl boxes in trees, on gum poles and on buildings.

The key to location is more about finding a place that is relatively undisturbed instead of a specific tree or site. Undisturbed is not necessarily a remote tree at the bottom of the garden - owls in urban areas are comfortable with cars, driveways, kids, dogs and cats. Undisturbed really covers direct disturbance. A place where people cannot easily access the box and remove chicks or bang against the box which would cause the owls to leave the box during the day. Disturbing an owl in a breeding box during the day is problematic. The female will often not return to the box until nightfall and consequently, the chicks are left unprotected from crows, cats and other potential predators of small chicks and eggs. In addition, the owlets and eggs, without the female to shield them can be exposed to long periods of sunlight or high winds or afternoon showers. If we have to disturb an owl, for ringing purposes for instance, it is always undertaken at dusk as this allows the female to return to the box quickly once the ringing has been completed.

A quick note on crows - we often hear from concerned clients that they have been told that their EcoSolutions owl box will not attract owls because there is no landing perch. When this programme was initiated (2000 -2001) we included a landing perch on all of our owl boxes. In the first year that we enjoyed occupancy, we lost 3 owl clutches to crows that used the landing perch to scold and frustrate the incubating female owl to the point that she abandoned the box and the chicks and eggs were subsequently predated upon. The 150 occupied owl boxes displayed in our success stories on our website do not have landing perches and produce owlets each year.   

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Owl Box Orientation

The correct orientation of an owl box is always a topic for discussion. It has been said that the box must face south, north, east or west from an “authority” on the topic. Alongside is a graph indicating preference percentages for 60 occupied owl boxes. The graph indicates a strong North (45%) or South (36%) preference. West and East facing boxes appear to be less attractive to owls. We use the word ''appear'' because we are not sure if there aren't numerous variables and biases that contribute to this graph that has nothing to do with an orientation preference.

The majority of houses in the Southern Hemisphere are North facing in order to maximise winter sun and summer shade. When EcoSolutions installs an owl box, we generally face the box towards the home of the client in order for them to see into and monitor the box for occupancy.  As a result, these boxes would have a South orientation. In many gardens with North orientated homes, we often place the owl box in the more secluded “back” garden. This would result in the owl house having a North orientation. We very seldom place boxes with the entrance of the box facing away from the house i.e East or West. This may account for the lower occupancy percentage as indicated on the graph. As a consequence of this installation bias, it is almost impossible at this stage to categorically say that there is an orientation preference.

Establishing an orientation preference is still an ongoing undertaking and we are adding data relating to orientation on completion of each owl box service.

 

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Success stories

Some of our occupied owl boxes

Read More…

Owl Release Sites

EcoSolutions is actively involved in a number of educational programmes. We conduct owl releases at schools and other centres of learning as they are generally perfect sites for owl habitation and at present we have around fifty schools in the greater Gauteng area involved in these projects. Since inception nearly 84 000 children have been involved in the various projects.

We have a few owl release sites at certain private residences and office parks, but in each case the individual or company has to either build an owl release site according to our exact specifications OR have us build the owl release pen for them. The reason for this is that rescued or orphaned owls in captivity and scheduled for release are very strictly controlled and we have to rehabilitate them into the wild.

The owls are tagged and monitored by the University of Cape Town and the process is strictly governed as they need to be monitored and fed in such a way that they can then become free creatures again with minimum risk inflicted on them.

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Owl Box FAQ

Frequently asked owl box questions answered:

 

Owl Box Occupancy

One of the most frequently asked questions that we receive from prospective and excited clients regarding their new owl box is “How long before we have owls?”  15 years along and this is still a question that we are unable to answer. What we can tell you is based on the 150 plus EcoSolutions owl boxes that are serviced and occupied nationally. We have experienced owls occupying owl boxes within two weeks from the installation date however, this is far from the norm. The large majority of our occupied owl boxes have taken anything from 2 - 5 years before occupancy occurs. That is the reality of it, you could be waiting for 5 years for occupancy to occur; that is if you experience occupancy at all.

The most important component in an owl box is not it's design, it's colour or even it's location. It is the substrate within the box. This substrate allows owls to form a ''cup'' in which to lay their eggs and raise their young. Without annual substrate replacement, the box is not an owl box - it will not be used by owls and is really just a box high up in your tree.

 

Owl Box Service

Why does my owl box need to be serviced annually and the substrate replaced? Owl boxes are designed to replicate a cavity in a tree. Although South Africa's urban centres are well treed, the majority of the trees are alive and unlike dead trees, do not have natural cavities. As a result, your owl box will attract the attention and fill the requirements for many cavity breeding and roosting residents. It is fine for squirrels, Egyptian geese, Genets and other birds to use it out of season. However, these usurpers bring sticks, paper, litter and all sorts of things into the box. Unless these are removed, owls will not utilise your owl box to breed in.

Once a year, prior to the owl breeding season, EcoSolutions undertakes to clean out the box and replace the substrate necessary for owl occupation. In addition, your annual service allows us to check that the box is still firmly attached, provide it with a new coat of varnish and make sure that the bee proofing is still intact. Additionally, the service component allows us to seamlessly introduce improved designs, greater expertise and understanding into our programme. If our data reveals that a specific orientation is optimum for successful occupancy, we will implement this during your annual service. 

            

To turn your owl box into a viable owl breeding site, arrange service here.

 

Owl Box Orientation

The correct orientation of an owl box is always a topic for discussion. It has been said that the box must face south, north, east or west from an “authority” on the topic. Alongside is a graph indicating preference percentages for 80 occupied owl boxes. The graph indicates a strong North (45%) or South (36%) preference. West and East facing boxes appear to be less attractive to owls. We use the word ''appear'' because we are not sure if there aren't numerous variables and biases that contribute to this graph that has nothing to do with an orientation preference.

The majority of houses in the Southern Hemisphere are North facing in order to maximise winter sun and summer shade. When EcoSolutions install an owl box, we generally face the box towards the home of the client in order for them to see into and monitor the box for occupancy.  As a result, these boxes would have a South orientation. In many gardens with North orientated homes, we often place the owl box in the more secluded “back” garden. This would result in the owl house having a North orientation. We very seldom place boxes with the entrance of the box facing away from the house i.e East or West. This may account for the lower occupancy percentage as indicated on the graph. As a consequence of this installation bias, it is almost impossible at this stage to categorically say that there is an orientation preference.

Establishing an orientation preference is still an ongoing undertaking and we are adding data relating to orientation on completion of each owl box service.

 

Owl Box Location

It would be fitting if our data showed a preference by owls for indigenous trees in which to breed. It doesn’t. Pine trees, Gum trees, Plane trees, Oak trees, Syringa trees etc. are all suitable for owl box installation. As are many indigenous trees. We have occupied owl boxes in trees, on gum poles and on buildings. The key to location is more about finding a place that is relatively undisturbed instead of a specific tree or site. Undisturbed is not necessarily a remote tree at the bottom of the garden - owls in urban areas are comfortable with cars, driveways, kids, dogs and cats. Undisturbed really covers direct disturbance. A place where people cannot easily access the box and remove chicks or bang against the box which would cause the owls to leave the box during the day. Disturbing an owl in a breeding box during the day is problematic. The female will often not return to the box until nightfall and consequently, the chicks are left unprotected from crows, cats and other potential predators of small chicks and eggs. In addition, the owlets and eggs, without the female to shield them can be exposed to long periods of sunlight or high winds or afternoon showers. If we have to disturb an owl, for ringing purposes for instance, it is always undertaken at dusk as this allows the female to return to the box quickly once the ringing has been completed.

        

 

Owlproject.org Update

There are so many challenges facing the youth in our country that the idea of donating to an owl programme in townships may seem frivolous. There are big issues that donor funds are required to tackle. Health, education, food security, safety and more. Although rodents in townships do impact on food security, affect health and the owlproject.org programme is highly educational, a discussion with a headmaster at one of our participating schools was very insightful. "owlproject.org raises the standard of living for kids in these areas in 2 ways", he said, "It teaches them nurture, they learn to look after the owls in their care, something not generally experienced by township children, and secondly, it teaches them awe". Awe and amazement for the world in which they live and the creatures with whom they share that world. So, on we go... Now, in its 12th year, owlproject.org has enjoyed the participation of 88118 township children in 63 participating schools. If you would like to donate to this programme - that would be wonderful.

    

 

 

 

 

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Barn owl in box

Barn owl in box
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Randburg 20140814 00114

Randburg 20140814 00114
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service 2

service 2
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service 1

service 1
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Service

Service
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Randburg 20140523 00855

Randburg 20140523 00855
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Things you should know:

• In pristine environments, Spotted Eagle owls (Bubo africanus) breed on the ground. They usually find a small rocky outcrop on which to lay their eggs. The small stones allow them to create a cup in which the owlets are raised.

• In urban environments, due to lawnmowers, dogs and people, the ground is often not a safe place to breed. It is for this reason that our owl boxes work.

However: The inside of the owl box still needs to replicate the ground-nesting requirements of the Spotted Eagle owl. This is why the gravel substrate is imperative for occupancy.

What is my “owl” box? There are very few old DEAD trees in urban environments, the owl box is designed to replicate a tree cavity. To you it is an owl box, to all other species, it is just a tree cavity which is available for breeding. Throughout the year, all sorts of species may use your box in which to raise and fledge their young. Good! Many of these species will bring sticks and leaves and grass in which to line their nests. This will cover the gravel substrate required by the owls, rendering the box unsuitable for owl occupancy. This is why we service your owl box.


Your owl box may look in perfect condition from your veranda but to potential owl visitors, it looks like this - Unusable:

  

  

 

It should look like this - usable:

  

  

 

Spotted Eagle owl season is starting - Book your service here.

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Reviews

Karen Stander
Our box have a spotted eagle owl! We stay on a smallholding in the Chancliff area, Krugersdorp and discovered that our recently serviced owl box, has a long awaited inhabitant! So glad and thankful to have the privilege of sharing our piece of nature with hopefully a breading pair soon! Have to tell you the bats are also happily occupying their box!

Cheryl Siewierski
Brilliant service from hugely knowledgeable installers at our home in Harties this morning. We are thrilled with our new bat and owl boxes and sure the residents of these will be too! Excellent to know that EcoSolutions also monitors numbers and patterns of the owls in perpetuity. Thank you!

Beryl Scott-Payet
Fantastic, thanks to all at Eco Solutions for your support and help with Strix (our injured owl) and the installations of the boxes and houses at Steyn City.

 

Owl Ring Recoveries


 

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