A few weeks back I had been searching the web for floor plans for a Barred Owl nest box. I had quite a bit of material sitting around, leftover from various construction jobs. I figured I would incorporate several of the ideas I read and have a go at building my own owl nest box. The end result?? they came out pretty nice and if I was a Barred Owl I’d be staking one of them out right now to get out of this snowstorm. Most of the plans your going to find are for 3/4 inch plywood and I made the following plans to those specs. You’ll want to use treated plywood if your not going to weatherproof it. Here is a list of the materials you’ll need to make your own owl nest box.
- 1/2 sheet 4′ x 4′ 3/4″ plywood (pressure treated if desired)
- exterior wood glue
- 1 5/8 ths exterior wood screws
- 2 – 4 inch by 1/4 inch all thread bolts (to connect perch to nest box)
- several 1/4 inch nuts, washers and lock washers
- 2 - 6 inch long by 1 1/2 or 2 inch wide framing connectors (to attach nest box to tree)
- 6 – 1 1/4 inch long bolts to attach framing connectors to box
- 1 small bag of wood chips
You will also need the following tools, jigsaw, circular saw, and drill. If you have a table saw it’s much easier and neater to cut your panels with that. A slide miter saw while not mandatory certainly does make cutting the panels, especially the two sides with the roof pitch an easier job. Once you have all your tools and materials together you’ll want to cut out the following pieces.
You’ll need to cut two front panels exactly the same, one of them will become the back of the nest box. The only difference in the two is the back panel will not have the hole in it. To cut the hole for your front panel measure up from the bottom of the piece 12 inches and square a line across this mark. Measure up 7 inches from your mark and square another line across your piece of wood. Now find the center of the panel, it should be 6 7/8ths inches from each edge. Mark a center line up your panel and measure outward on both side 3 1/2 inches and mark each location. You should now have a 7″ x 7″ square laid out for the entrance. Now take a compass and make a 3 1/2 inch radius from your highest mark (approx 19 inches from the bottom edge) out to the side marks you just laid out. You should now have the top of your entrance arched. If you don’t have a compass you can use a small jar or anything that’s round about 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
On the inside of the front panel you need to make a ladder or toe holds for the young owls (owlets) to climb. You can do this either by cutting thin strips of wood and gluing them on you can make kerf marks (saw cuts) across the panel every 1/4. Start the kerfs from the bottom of the panel up to the bottom of the door way. You can see in the image on the right that I chose to glue on small strips and since I have it I also used a brad nailer to secure the strips even further while the glue dried.
For the drainage and added air circulation cut the 4 corners back slightly on the bottom 12 1/4″ x 12 1/4″ panel. The miter saw is perfect for this task. Pay special attention to the fact that one side panel is 1 inch longer than the other, this gives you the pitch for the roof. You don’t have to pitch the roof but your box will stay in much better shape over the years if it can shed water. Please note that if your going to use 5/8 or 1/2 inch plywood you’ll need to adjust the front and back panel widths accordingly. You can also add extra air vents by drilling 2 half inch holes near the top of each side panel.
Once all the pieces of your Barred Owl nest box are cut your ready for assembly. I prefer to glue all my joints, use a good exterior wood glue and smear it on one edge of each joint. Assemble the base to the two side panels first, make sure all edges are flush and screw with 1 5/8 exterior screws. You may want to pre-drill your holes as it makes screwing the pieces together a little easier. Next you’ll want to attach the front and back panels. The front and back panels overlap the sides which is why we assmbled those first. Again, glue all edges, flush the pieces together and connect with screws. Attach the roof panel last, make sure you leave the edge of the roof panel flush to the side of the box your going to connect to the tree with. Make sure there are no nails or screws protruding into the inside of the box that will injure the owls. If any sharp points are protruding back out the screws and start a new straighter screw.
Once your nest box is together you can then attach a perch just under the entrance. Find a good solid branch about 2 inches in diameter and cut it several inches longer than the width of the box. The mother and owlets will use perch extensively as they grow. To connect the branch to the box lay it on the box about 3 inches below the entrance and drill a hole all the way through the branch and box at each end. Set the branch aside. Place the head of your bolt on the inside of the box, slide a lock washer and nut over the bolt and tighten. Thread a second nut with lock washer on the bolt and stop about 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the face of the box. Slide the branch over the bolts and down to the nuts you just threaded on. Secure the brach in place with another set of lock washers and nut and tighten. You should now have a nice secure perch with a little space between it and the nest box. If your bolts are still projecting out from the branch cut off the excess with a grinder or hacksaw and file off any sharp edges.
You can go the extra mile as I did and use cedar shingles to cover the plywood. I only did this because I used interior grade plywood but it looks a lot nicer in the end. I glued all the shakes in place and attached them with a small brad nailer. I could have went even further and made the box more weather tight by covering the outside of the box with Ice & Water Barrier before attaching the the shakes but that was an after thought. If you choose to stain your box do so with a water based, non toxic stain. I actually preferred not to use treated plywood just because of all the chemical additives in it. Your last step is to attach the strapping or framing connectors to the box with bolts. Again place the head of the bolt inside the box. Secure the flat framing connectors, one protruding from the top and one protruding from the bottom with nuts and lock washers. Some sites may show a chain or cable to attach the nest box but over time this method will do more damage to the tree once it grows than simply nailing or screwing in the framing connectors.
Hanging Your Barred Owl Box
Your going to want hang your Barred Owl box between 15 to 20 feet off the ground on a mature tree that is at least 12 inches in diameter. You’ll want to be able to access it in the future to remove any unwanted debris or animals out of it like squirrels. Barred Owls prefer to nest in lowland mature forest areas. You should take care to hang the nest box within 300 feet of a water source, pond, stream, lake or river. The further you place the box from human activity the better your chances of having an owl use it, it should be no closer than 150 feet. Try to avoid placing the box in direct sunlight so it doesn’t overheat inside. Attaching the box on the west or north side of the tree is preferred.
Hanging the box is definitely a two person job as the boxes are too heavy and bulky for one person on a ladder. I build for a living, am 6′ 1′, 210 pounds and pretty adept on ladders and I still needed a helper. You’ll definitely need some rope here. Tie a slip knot or carabiner on one end of the rope, wrap the rope around the box under the roof and feed it through the knot or carabiner. Throw the other end of the rope over a higher branch. The ground man can now hoist the box up into place while the guy on the ladder attaches it to the tree. You can either choose to have the entrance facing directly away from the tree or turn the nest box so it faces the side of the tree. The later method will allow for easier access in the future to clean out the box if necessary. The last and final thing you need to do is place a couple inches of wood chips in the bottom of the box. The wood chips cushion the eggs and keep them in place. Owls don’t gather nesting material so placing the wood chips in the bottom of the box is a must.
Barred Owls will often use the same nest site year after year. Adult Barred Owls will mate for life and only replace their mate if the other dies. They start looking for a suitable nest in early winter and usually lay their eggs in the later winter months or early April. The female will lay between 2 to 4 eggs that will hatch about 4 weeks later. As soon as the owlets can fly they leave the nest and set off on their own.
You shouldn’t have to disturb the area to check on whether there is a pair of owls using the nest box. Barred Owls are very vocal and you should be able to hear their distinctive call “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” if they are in the area. If you hear their calls coming from the direction of where you placed the box sneak in and take a peak, don’t forget the camera. Just remember not to disturb them to often as they may abandon their nest.
With any luck we’ll have a pair of Barred Owls using the nest boxes we put out, we’ll be sure to share the pics right here if we do.
Have fun and enjoy Nature!!