Raptors are magnificent creatures. They’re wild, fierce, powerful. I stand arrested when I see one, and the awe I feel stays with me.
And owls, I think you’ll agree, are among the finest of the raptors. Just look at how they hunt.
An owl perches unseen, silent, and eerily still. Eyes, piercing and bright, scan for a meal. With target acquired and a flap of its wings, it glides soundlessly, seizes its prey, and suddenly… it’s over.
With only a few exceptions, owls are nocturnal, which means they hunt at night. All other raptors are diurnal, meaning they hunt during the day.
It’s their elusive nighttime activity, and that they don’t visit bird feeders, which makes owls difficult to find. Nevertheless, there are several ways to attract them to your backyard.
Why Attract Owls?
Aside from their sheer coolness factor, pest control is the best reason to consider making friends with an owl.
If you have mice, voles, spiders, snakes, large insects, or too many squirrels robbing your bird feeders, then an owl is what you need.
And they’re much better than any pesticide.
Attracting Owls to Your Backyard
The U.S. is home to 19 species of owls. Of these, you can typically encourage five to visit your backyard:
Bird enthusiasts agree there are four predominant ways to attract these owls to your backyard.
Install an Owl Box
Owls do not build nests. Instead, they find crevices among rocks, hollow cavities in trees, or commandeer other structures. Some will use an abandoned nest of another large bird.
But barn owls and screech owls will readily occupy an owl box if an appropriate natural enclosure isn’t available.
It’s important to have a properly built owl box. They’re not one-size-fits-all.
An owl box with an incorrect depth, for example, could lead to owlets falling out. If they do, adult owls will ignore them, leaving them to die.
Above all, it’s essential that any owl box be waterproof. If it’s not, then place it in a dry area like an open barn or shed.
Ask a reputable wildlife store, rescue organization, or similar expert for recommended boxes.
If you want to build your own, get plans specific to the owl you’re trying to attract. You can find excellent plans for a barn owl box, plus tips on how and where to hang it, here.
Great horned owls and barred owls prefer to be in the open. They aren’t likely to use an owl box. Even so, if trees and prey are available, there’s a good chance they’re nearby. While they’ll likely ignore an owl box, the next three tips should attract these species too.
Build a Brush Pile
A pile of leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and other natural materials can attract an owl’s natural prey—chipmunks, mice, large bugs, and others. Consider building several brush piles in the far corners of your property, away from the house. You want to invite owls into your backyard, not mice into your home.
See also: Lawn Care With Birds in Mind
Turn Off Your Lights
Remember most owls hunt at night. With their large, forward-facing eyes and exceptional hearing, they’re perfectly adapted to find food in near pitch-black darkness. A light left on all night will only confuse and keep them away.
If you need outdoor lighting, consider using motion-activated lights. Or, you can turn off your lights before bedtime.
And don’t use a flash if you’re trying to take pictures of owls.
Just like in humans, a sudden bright light will create a temporary vision loss in owls. An owl’s eyesight is central to its survival and impairing it, even temporarily, puts them in harm’s way.
Don’t Remove Dead Trees
Unless a dead tree is threatening your property or safety, consider leaving it alone. Dead trees and logs benefit the local habitat in several ways:
- Owls, we know, will raise their young in tree cavities.
- Thick, bare branches are perfect for spotting prey and launching an attack.
- Dead trees are home to tree squirrels, opossums, raccoons, and woodpeckers.
- Snakes and salamanders will use logs as hiding places.
- Rotting logs add nutrients back into the soil.
And while not dead, mature, dense coniferous and deciduous trees, especially those in the shade, give owls a safe place to roost during the day.
Important Considerations When Attracting Owls
The prospect of attracting owls to your backyard can be exciting. But when interacting with wildlife, we need to be responsible stewards of nature. Make sure your backyard is safe for owls before taking steps to attract them.
Before attracting owls to your backyard, the Owl Research Institute encourages you to consider four questions to ensure it’s an appropriate haven:
- Do you have a lot of… roadways near your home where owls could collide with vehicles?
- Are there farms near you that use pesticides, herbicides or other potentially harmful agrochemicals…?
- Do you use rodenticide chemicals…?
- [Are there] any other environmental factors in your area that might harm an owl?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then your location isn’t safe for owls. Instead look for owls along hiking trails at dusk or just before dawn.
Owls flying at night can easily become tangled in a net, causing injury, and possibly death. Remove soccer, hockey, and basketball nets.
And don’t forget holiday decorations. Halloween spider webs hanging between trees is an inevitable trap.
To protect small dogs, cats, and other animals an owl might view as prey, bring them indoors before dusk. If you raise chickens, you’re better off without an owl around. And if you’re fond of rabbits in your neighboring meadow, then attracting owls is a no-no.
See also: What Keeps Birds Out of Your Yard
Put Out the Welcome Mat
Having an owl living and raising its young in your backyard is privileged contact with the wildness of nature. To attract owls to your backyard:
- Provide an owl box;
- Build a brush pile;
- Turn off lights;
- Leave dead trees standing.
Then sit back and enjoy their mystery and mystique.