August brings with it the hint of fall creeping up on us. For us here at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, it brings an awareness that things will be slowing down. Baby season will be ending, granting us permission to catch our breath. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to complete! One of the biggest undertakings in the Autumn season is a project related to the Barn Owl Maintenance Box Program, or B.O.M.P. All summer, we provide boxes to clients in order to house barn owls via this rapidly growing program. Barn owls as gopher predators form part of an organic system of pest control. Since barn owls predate on gophers, rats, and other pesky rodents, encouraging an owl to your property by providing it a nest box is a wonderful way to control rodent populations without using rodenticides. The services we provide through our Barn Owl Maintenance Box Program include:
Installing barn owl boxes: We come out to your property to conduct a thorough walk through and consultation. If your property is a good candidate, (meaning we have reasonably high expectations of an owl finding and establishing habitation in the box) we do the box installation. We generally recommend one box per every three acres of suitable land. How do you know if you have good barn owl habitat? According to “The Barn Owl Trust,” “The best foraging habitat for Barn owls is rough grassland - a thick, matted, tussocky mix of native grass species with lots of field Voles and other small mammals - great for Barn owls and lots of other wildlife” This explains why our most active boxes tend to be located on, or very near, vineyard property
Barn owl research: We conduct research on the boxes in the spring to early summer. Conducting research on boxes that we place allows us to document box activity, inactivity and other important data. It also gives the property owner a glimpse into their boxes, which can be exciting, especially if there is activity. We only take video or photos when we are confident that doing so will not disturb the nesting owls. Regular research also gives us a better idea in the fall months about which boxes need maintenance.
Barn owl maintenance: It is imperative that barn owl boxes, more specifically, those boxes that have had activity during the summer, be cleaned and maintained later in the year. We perform maintenance to the boxes every year in the late fall. Our boxes are built with maintenance in mind, as there is an easy open hatch that allows for easy cleaning. Barn owls show little regard for the cleanliness of their nest box. They can nest in the same box for years, completely content to live on top of the past seasons materials (feces, pellets, and other organic matter that owls create). We have seen boxes so full of material that they have actually fallen onto the ground under the weight of it. This is why it is so important to conduct seasonal maintenance on your owl box.
We founded B.O.M.P in 2013, and since then, the program has grown exponentially. What inspired us to create this popular program? As many of our supporters know, we are fully donor funded. In the past, we have put great effort into other means of procuring funds, through fundraising, grant applications and similar endeavors. We have found that it is extremely difficult to get funding through these routes. In order to ensure that we could continue to provide our valuable services to the community, we needed to create programs to bring in financial support. B.O.M.P. quickly grew through word of mouth advertising, which has been virtually the only form of advertising and marketing we’ve relied upon. As mentioned above, word of mouth advertising has played an important role in the success of this program. However, we have also attempted to get the word out about B.O.M.P. to the community in other ways. For example, we attended the annual Gravenstein Apple Fair and played an integral part in their “Life on the Farm,” exhibition. We presented both days of this iconic fair. We also had the privilege of attending Sonoma County’s annual Wine Grower’s barbecue, where we had the opportunity to talk to vintners about the effectiveness of barn owls to manage rodent populations. We hope to attend more of these popular events in 2019.
Though this program has shown exceptional promise, we still need help growing. This much needed service is beloved by the community not only for the obvious benefit of attracting owls, which is to cut down on gopher populations. It is also much loved because the program gives us the ability to place orphaned owlets with owls who have current nest activity. This is one more important reason why conducting annual research is of utmost importance. Knowing where active boxes are helps us to be able to know exactly where we can take owlets in need of a new family unit. Also, natural pest control by means of attracting owls means a decrease of rodenticide usage. This all ties into our charity work here at SCWR because often times our wildlife patients come in presenting symptoms of toxicity from rodent poisons. B.O.M.P. represents a change in ideas around what controlling rodent populations can look like, taking it to a level that promotes the ecological health of Sonoma County. Can you help us spread the word about our Barn Owl Maintenance Box Program? Even if you don’t have “barn owl habitat,” perhaps you know someone who does?
The best part about helping us spread the word about B.O.M.P. is that all the proceeds from this program go towards our charity work of helping sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife. If you are interested in B.O.M.P., or know someone who may be, contact us, or visit our website to learn more about the important work we are doing with barn owls.