I’ll start with the tools of the trade… gloves, mask fairly self explanatory, after all these are predators there are remnants of their prey in the boxes if the box was just used as a roost. Putty knife is helpful for removing the bedding from a box (especially if it was used as a nest), after it dries out its a bit like dusty horsehair dusty plaster . A Drill or screwdriver to open up the box and for backing off mounting screws (more later in post on this). Hammer is to tap in any staples that hold the vinyl covering if any loosen up in the normal expansion/contraction in the various weather conditions. Finally a bucket of new bedding material to replace the old.
I typically will clean out nest material every year, but if the box was used only as a roost, may only clean out old pellets an some feathers, add a little new material, even skip a year. If it was unused its not a bad idea to open up a box and check just to see whats going on. Birds like starling will clean out wood chips. So you may have to add bedding/wood chips even if no owls were seen. And who knows, there is an off chance that some unexpected evidence of owl use (pellets/feathers) remain even if no owl was ever seen.
WARNING, sometimes Wasps (or bees) will make a hive in an owl box, I removed one from the “pole” box from Site 3. These were European Paper Wasps, They actually began using the box last year, but didn’t seem to deter the owl as seen in this post so if you look closely at the picture you can see a wasp in the upper right corner of the box, just under the roof. Unlike the last two years the female has not used this box in the late summer. Did the wasp nest get too big and deter the female? Anyway the box is cleaned out, Wasps were removed, and I didn’t even get stung.
Note there was another section to this part about 1/2 the size so it was fairly large.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier an important part of yearly maintenance, is backing the screws out of the tree. Trees grow thicker, and this will pull the screws though the wood if they aren’t given some ‘slack’. Takes a bit of trial and error to loosen the screws up a bit, without having the box be loose. Which is why I bring the cordless drill, it is a bit tough to back these out with a hand screwdriver.
I did some nest box checking and cleaning this past weekend, a few more to go, but got this note from the owner
On Saturday [9/17] That (the cleaning) must have made the box more attractive because there is a dark gray/brown owl in the slot box at 8:30 this morning! During the past month there have been a few raucus protests by the yard-birds, which have made me suspect the presence of an owl in our yard. It is gratifying to confirm an owl IS here, the first sighting since the owlets fledged last May.
The Circle hole box was completely cleaned out, and wood chips were replaced as this was the nest box. The slot box I did not replace any wood chips since this was not the nest box, just removed a few old pellets but left whatever feathers were in there. This is the first time that an owl has been seen so soon after a clean out on one of the boxes on this ‘trail’, but I know of at least one other instance of owl activity very soon after a clean out. http://celeryfarm.net/2008/02/owl-nest-box-ma.html#more there may be some to it being more attractive, or maybe a ‘who’s been sleeping in my bed’ in an owl way.
Update: seen 9-20 and 9-21
the owl was visible in the slot box for most of the morning & early afternoon, I had to peer through the dirt of both glass & screen doors and the walnut leaves so I didn’t have a clear view of it. With binoculars I could see that it had a dark gray-brown head with a lot of white on the breast.This owl did not look like any of the individuals documented in the many photos I took last season.
Some can’t get any owls, if this is a different owl, that would make 5 distinct individuals documented at this site in the last 1.5 years.
After great early returns on site 9, (owl resident 12 days after installation) things had gone quiet. An owl had not been seen since the last days of January. I may have put the Box too close to the drive way, it may have been too busy for the owls liking. Of course there are lots of possible other reasons, but since there was a seemingly better option/tree a bit further away, with significantly less ‘traffic’- more secluded, I decided to move the box. It may not work this year, but hopefully be a better spot for future years.
As for the installation, just a few photos of a simple method to make life easier hanging an owlbox on a tree. Its not my idea, although I do not use a “complex set of pulleys”. Just one, and some hardware hooks and clothesline type rope.
First step is attach the hardware hook and pulley about 6″ above where you want the box to be attached, next thread the clothesline through the pulley and pull it down the latter with you (you will need at least 40-50′ of line).
next, attach a hook to the box, and tie the line too it.
Carefully hoist the box into position
and tie off on the nearest solid object/tree
now all you have to do is position the latter, screw in the box to the tree, afterwards unscrew the hooks on the tree and box, and bring, or drop (when in doubt, let it go) the hardware,pulley, and rope down.
It makes life on the ladder that much safer.
After the night cleaning the owl in Maryland took about a month off from the box…I was getting a bit nervous that I spooked the owl some how, alas, I may have spooked it a bit, but whatever it was that kept it away was relatively short lived. As its been back in the box a few times since Thanksgiving.
Took a family trip down to Maryland, and low and behold the resident owl was using the Box, it is about the reddest red phased screech owl I have seen, anyway with the owl in the box, made an annual clean out a bit unorthodox. Had to wait until the owl left for the night before the clean out. Hopefully, the owl doesn’t get too alarmed at the new clean bedding. It was there Friday and Saturday but was not there Sunday, the day after the night cleaning…Hopefully it will be back soon!
I generally clean out the boxes that have nests once a year, usually in Sept., running a bit late this year. By cleaning out in the late summer, it allows the nest debri to dry out (gloves and dust mask highly recommended), and reduces the risk of interrupting a roosting owl which may scare them away. Nest debri when dry isn’t too bad, kinda a mix of wood chips, feathers and dried ick. With the boxes that are unused or used just as roosts, its a check and see, sometimes starlings remove the wood chips, so you are left with nothing much on the bottom, other times things look pretty good, maybe a few pelletes and there is no need to clean it out.