Attracting Owls to Reduce Rodent Populations
Farmers and homeowners alike can benefit from attracting owls to their property. With over 19 species of owls in the United States, these predators inhabit a wide variety of environments and dine on many animals we consider pests. Voles, mice, rats, and gophers frequently destroy crops, gardens, and flowerbeds in search of food. By attracting owls, you can use a natural approach to rodent and pest control to eliminate these pests with little to no effort on your part!
How Can Owls Help?
Owls are natural born predators that primarily hunt at night with their keen night vision and stealth. On an average night, these hunters can eat up to 12 mice. Certain species, such as barn owls, are more sociable and even shelter or hunt in small groups, meaning they can quickly reduce the rodent population in any location they inhabit. In one season, a group of owls can eliminate several hundred mice and other vermin. Smaller owls will also target insects, so these birds really are a one-stop shop for pest control that you can easily attract.
Regardless of whether you live on a farm, in a city, or in the suburbs, owls make their homes anywhere there is ample food, shelter, and water. By creating suitable conditions, owls will start to target a certain area to use as hunting and nesting grounds. Owls are not particularly picky when it comes to their diet. If your property has voles, squirrels, mice, rats, rabbits, or skunks, you can rely on owls to keep their populations in check, making infestations less likely to occur.
Benefits of Attracting Owls
With almost no disadvantages to attracting owls, there are a massive number of benefits to having them hunt on or near your property.
- Coexistence -- Owls are nocturnal creatures that hunt at night and sleep during the day. They will not bother other birds in your yard, disrupt birds at bird feeders, and can easily coexist with other nearby birds. In fact, you won’t notice any changes in your regular bird visitors!
- Low to No Costs -- Owls are one of the few birds you want to attract that cost you almost nothing. They do not eat birdseed, which can end up saving you a small fortune over time. The only expenditure would be the one-time construction or purchase of a nest box.
- Less Damage -- Pests will think twice before venturing out of their burrows when they know a predator is in the area. This can lead to less damage in your garden since they do not feel free to roam wherever they please with the possibility of an attack looming.
- Controls a Variety of Pests -- Mice, rats, voles, squirrels, skunks, and rabbits that constantly cause damage and feast on your plants are all part of an owl’s diet. Owls will help keep their population from growing too large to control.
- Consistent Pest Control -- Once an owl finds a good source of food, they will stay in the area until the source is depleted. If your property is overrun with mice, gophers, or other pests, owls can make quick work of the infestation and help you regain control.
How to Attract Owls
There are four basic necessities an area must have in order to be an attractive place for an owl to take up residence: food, water, shelter, and a nesting location.
Owls are not attracted to bird feeders like other birds since their diet does not include bird seed. However, bird feeders are notorious for attracting mice with the discarded seeds that accumulate on the ground after birds have visited.
Leaving the seed for mice to consume will give owls a new hunting ground to make your area more enticing. Brush and wood piles provide shelter for mice as well. Leaving one untouched in your yard for mice to live in will keep owls interested.
To protect your home, make sure to thoroughly check the outside of your home for spaces where mice could enter and plug them up. It’s also a safe option to use repellents in your home when leaving areas of your property open to mice, so they don’t decide to take up residence in your home.
While owls get the majority of the water they need from the prey they eat, having a bird bath in your yard can be an incentive for them to visit. Large and deep bird baths are ideal for owls, especially in warmer climates. They may not use it to quench their thirst, but owls will use it to cool down and bathe.
Owls love to nest in hollow trees and perch on horizontal branches. Instead of chopping off branches that have lost their foliage or cutting down trees with hollow spots in them, leave one to welcome owls onto your property. Building nest boxes is also another unique way you can attract owls. More on that below!
Since owls sleep during the day, they need a good place to stow themselves away during the daylight hours. They prefer a shaded, more secluded area, preferably in a large tree or nesting box. By providing a place where owls can feel safe sleeping all day, you are much more likely to be successful in attracting these predators.
One of the easiest ways to attract owls, especially if none of the above suggestions are feasible, is to buy or construct a nest box. These boxes are so effective because they mimic an owl’s natural habitat and provide shelter. For the best results, place several boxes around your property or the neighborhood, especially if you live in an urban area.
Owls are early nesters, so to be as successful as possible, make sure your nest box is up before January or February. Boxes should be large enough to hold an owl, its nest, and several owlets. Boxes should be 10-20 feet off of the ground but not so high that you can’t access it for periodic cleaning.
Position the box with a clear path of approach. Make sure branches, wires, or decor are not blocking the entrance so the owls can have a smooth landing. If possible, make sure the opening of the nest box faces away from the wind, to ensure nesting birds retain their warmth for their eggs and babies.
Because their diet consists mostly of mice, hantavirus can sometimes be found in owl droppings. As long as you safely dispose of the waste, there is nothing to fear about attracting owls. Monitor the nesting box each week to see if it’s dirty and clean up any mess when the owls are not using the box.
If you don’t spot an owl in the nest box, be patient. It may take some time for these birds to discover it and feel safe enough to explore. Be sure to keep the box free of squirrels, large debris, or other birds, otherwise they may feel discouraged to enter.
Habits to Avoid
When attracting owls, many people tend to try many different things, but a simple, focused approach is best. Avoid the following common mistakes when trying to attract owls.
- Supplemental Food -- Many people release store-bought dead mice to attract owls. However, owls need to hunt live prey to fulfill their dietary and behavioral needs, so it’s best to provide a natural environment over store-bought options.
- Recorded Owl Sounds -- These sounds can agitate both owls and other birds while also distracting them from hunting. By using these sounds, you may achieve the opposite of your intended effect and scare them away!
- Netting -- Do you have sports nets hanging around your yard? While these are fine during the day, it is best to remove them at night to lower the risk of entanglement and injury to the owls.
- Pesticides -- When owls ingest mice that have eaten poison, they are also at risk of being eliminated. Try other pest control methods such as snap traps or live traps when trying to attract owls. When using poisons, make sure you know how to use them responsibly to continue attracting owls while controlling your pest population.
Tips for Attracting Owls
Even when you do everything well, there’s still a chance owls will stubbornly stay away. Check out these tips to make your property even more owl friendly.
- Keep Pets Inside After Dark -- Small pets are at risk of being hunted at night and larger pets may scare off owls. It’s best to keep them inside as much as possible from dusk to dawn.
- Prevent Window Collisions -- Since owls are such large and powerful birds, a window collision can be fatal or extremely harmful. Use curtains or other adornments so owls and other birds can clearly see the obstruction and avoid it.
- Turn Off Yard Lights -- Owls are extremely well-adapted to seeing in the dark to hunt stealthily. Yard lights that suddenly turn on after detecting motion can scare both the owl and its prey. Lights make it easier for prey to see an owl coming, causing the owls to potentially leave to find a more suitable place to hunt.
- Keep Large Branches -- Bare branches can be an eyesore, but owls use them frequently to hunt and perch. They prefer hollowed out spaces in tree, so be sure not to plug or cover them up!
- Go Natural -- Having an area dedicated to being left unlandscaped can attract prey for owls. Once they notice an area with easy prey, they will keep coming back for more, giving you consistent, natural pest control.
Have You Attracted Owls?
Which tips helped you the most? Let us know on our Facebook page and send us some pictures of your new owl residents! For additional information on pest control, head over to our Learning Center for tips and articles on a variety of common problems you may face and sign up for our e-newsletter.