A Coalition of Science-Based Wildlife Professionals
Cleaning Out Box
Annual barn owl box maintenance is by far the most important part of box ownership. Owlets that are raised in a nesting box do not leave the box until they are ready to fly, approximately 60 days after they hatch. During that time, they poop and throw up pellets inside their box, stomping it down over time until you are left with inches of solid waste built up. This makes the inside of the nesting box not only very dirty, but also much smaller. Since no housekeeping is performed by the owls, it is the box owner's responsibility to make sure next year’s owlets have a clean and spacious box to grow up in.
Read a firsthand account from our friends at Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa, CA on what can happen to the owls inside of a barn owl box when it is not cleaned out.
From Bird Rescue Center’s October 2021 Newsletter:
What Can Happen If Boxes Aren't Cleaned?
Over time, the combination of leftover food, pellets, and feces can build up inside the box, raising the height of the floor. As young owls become ambulatory, this build-up gives them easy access to the nest hole – meaning they can walk right out of the box before they are old enough to safely fly down! In the photographs above, you may have noticed the sizable difference in the age of the Barn Owls. If the little downy owls were to prematurely exit the box, they could be harmed on the fall, caught by a predator, or suffer from hypothermia if not found immediately.
Various health problems are another consequence of waste build-up and poor living conditions. These issues often present as respiratory issues or, even more commonly, foot and feather issues. One such group of 4 babies came to us in July of 2018 with the skin of their footpads crusted over. Walking on soft, damp substrate led to their skin softening to the point of sloughing and then thick scabs forming with no real skin underneath. (Yuck! And poor babies!) We spent the better part of a year (six to nine months!) doing various foot treatments to protect and promote the newly growing skin. Not only was captivity and medical treatment hard on them, they were not able to grow up with their parents.
In the photos to the right, you can see the crusted footpad on intake, then healing progression after 2 months, and nearly healed pads at 4 months.
Luckily we were able to get them released as happy, healthy owls ready to live out a natural life and continue to provide very important rodent control!
Solution: Maintenance is the practice of cleaning a barn owl box to prepare it for the next nesting season. It is also the perfect time of year to perform any repairs to the box itself. Owlets raised in nesting boxes that are not properly cleaned every year have an increased likelihood of injury, death by predation, or being kicked out of the box by a competitive sibling before they are ready. Annual maintenance also prolongs the life of your box. Maintenance should always occur after the nesting season has ended. For those who chose to perform maintenance themselves, October is the most ideal month to preform maintenance and when you are least likely to encounter owls in your box. For those seeking professional services, please visit our participating partner organization page and select a rescue organization based on your county.
BOMP Coalition Administrative Office and Contact Information
Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue
PO Box 448
Cotati, CA 94931
Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue
403 Mecham Road
Petaluma, CA 95452
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