How to Attract Owls to Your Yard

Try these tips to make your garden appealing to these fascinating creatures of the night.
Horned Owl

Horned Owl

Owls can keep pest population down in the garden.

Owls can keep pest population down in the garden.

We often hear their voices calling across the night air. The soft “hoo” of the Great Horned Owl, the familiar “who cooks for you?” of the Barred Owl or the trilling whinny of the Eastern Screech Owl, all share our yards, trees and gardens, although the largely nocturnal birds are more often heard than seen. With over 200 species found worldwide and 19 in the U.S., they are out there in the darkness and a functioning part of the ecosystem.

But what have they done for you lately?

Anyone who has ever shelled out a few dollars for a “decoy” owl to place on their home or near the garden will tell you, owls strike fear in the hearts of rodents, skunks, rabbits and smaller birds likely to feast on plants, roots, fruit and cultivated nuts. Although potential prey are usually quick to catch on to the decoy ruse, rendering it ineffective, the premise is sound. Owls are aggressive carnivores, snapping up these garden pests and disappearing before the break of dawn.

For those with smaller outdoor pets, the presence of such a vicious predator may not be so welcome. Although tales of dogs being swept away are often exaggerated, the danger is not unprecedented and for those who keep chickens, attacks from larger breeds like the Great Horned are a legitimate concern. In my own yard, a recent owl attack left one of my flock shaken, but intact. The concern is compounded in that once an owl has successfully found a source of prey, it will return until the food source is depleted.

Owls can be troublesome for some, but if outdoor pets or chickens aren’t part of your backyard life, attracting owls to the yard can help reduce a pest population often hard to manage without resorting to drastic means. Over a single season, an owl will devour hundreds of garden-munching rodents and other pests. Offering them a hospitable habitat can be managed with minimal expense.

Tips for Attracting Owls

Install nesting boxes to provide owls with a secure location to set up home. Most owls seek hollow cavities in trees to nest, but some, like the screech owl, are attracted to manufactured boxes. Place boxes in trees 10-12 feet from the ground on property perimeter where leavings will not be a problem.

Don’t prune large branches from trees. Horizontal perches give owls a prime location on which to perch.

Put outdoor flood lights on timers. A well-lit yard does not appeal to these night-stalkers. Once you’ve gone to bed, turn out the lights so these pest controllers can get to work.

Provide bird baths. Like other birds, owls may be attracted by a large bird bath from which to drink and bathe.

Mow the lawn less often to give owls a more appealing hunting ground. Mice and other small rodents are likelier to traffic spans of grass left a little longer.

Attracting owls isn't for everyone. If outdoor pets or chickens make an owl presence a problem, keeping brush cleared, pruning large branches and keeping the lawn trimmed will discourage owls from hanging around. Removing bird feeders can also reduce available prey, sending owls in search of more populous turf on which to hunt. Once owls have found a place to successfully hunt, they are likely to return. Keep pets and poultry locked up after twilight.

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