Date: 4/8/21 2:56 pm
From: Paul Cypher <paulcypher...>
Subject: [birders] Owl Box Strategies

All -

I thought I would take a few moments and share with you a series of strategies that I deployed here at our house to encourage nesting owls, discourage starlings, and monitor the whole process remotely.

In 1954, Looney Tunes released a cartoon titled “Designed for Leaving”. Daffy duck is a salesman and tries to sell a futuristic house to Elmer Fudd. There’s a reference in the cartoon where Daffy suggests that you don’t need to go upstairs anymore because you can bring the upstairs downstairs. Knowing the same strategy had to be in place for nesting boxes (bring the box to me instead of me going to the box) and knowing that I will not climb tall, thin ladders, I did a brief search on the Internet and found the plans I ultimately used.

Basically, a 4 x 4 post is in the ground and a series of 2 x 4s are utilized to get the box over 15 feet in the air. After pulling the cotter pin that keeps it vertical, I can “walk the post down” such that the box is now on the ground. Further, the nesting box is only attached to the post with a hinge at the top. As the post moves from vertical to horizontal, the box maintains a vertical position. In the event we ever get owls, the box can be lowered without jumbling up the nestlings. They can then be safely banded.

Using physics principles of fulcrums and levers, I can place weights on the short end of the post. This will assist me in returning the long post back to the vertical position.

The post was placed a fair distance from the tree line such that squirrels cannot make the jump from trees to box. Also, a squirrel baffle is in place. To the best of my knowledge, only birds have been on or in the box.

This past winter, I adopted a strategy of utilizing two security cameras. Manufactured by ReoLink, the Argus 2 cameras are ideal. One is placed inside the box pointing down, while the other is placed outside the box on a horizontal strut pointing back at the nest hole. Both cameras have their own solar panel. The interior is not National Geographic footage but it shows us exactly what’s going on. During daylight hours, the exterior camera is pretty clear. Unfortunately, at night time, the wood from the box seems to reflect the wave lengths of the night vision capabilities of the camera and the box turns a bright white. The image borders on obnoxious, but we can see what’s going on.

As the box is almost 40 yards from the house, running power was fundamentally stupid. This also compromised my ability to use hard wires to run the signal from the cameras to the house. So, both cameras are Wi-Fi capable. However, your average Wi-Fi signal can’t reach that far so I secured a directional Wi-Fi antenna. I now have 24-hour access to the interior and exterior of the box all from my phone using the ReoLink app.

Last year however, we had problems with starlings using the box. I figured out very quickly that I was not going to be dropping the box every week to remove starling nests and eggs like I did last spring. Further, I do live trapping to secure starlings and house sparrows. I won’t tell you what happens to them, but it doesn’t take much to figure out that there has to be a mechanism to keep the bird out of the box. No matter how many starlings you have in the trap, there’s always gonna be one wants to be in the box.

So, I designed a drawbridge-style door with nylon cord and pulleys. Basically, I can stand at the bottom of the post and pull the string to close or open the panel that blocks the nest hole. Overall, the motion is not unlike moving a flag up and down the pole.

Every morning, I close the box after I confirm, via security camera, that the box does not have an owl. Starlings can no longer enter. At sunset, I open the box by pulling the other cord. The fact that starlings and owls operate on opposing schedules allows us to get away with this. I think...

I also took care to use a series of eye hooks to guide the nylon cord around the edges of the box. This was to prevent fraying. The cord runs down the post and through a hole cut in the baffle. Routing the cord around the baffle would allow squirrels access to the top of the post, thus defeating the purpose of the baffle. The hole in the baffle is small enough where they cannot squeeze through. The cord secures at the bottom of the post around a simple cleat arrangement like one would find on a boat dock. In fact, it is one single length of cord.

A few months ago, we had an owl that spent some time in the box but we have not seen him/her since. I have managed to secure nighttime footage of a Great Horned Owl sitting on the box. This was part of my motivation to have a camera outside the box -who sits on it at night? (No pun intended)

I am not an builder, but I think I have a strategy that may actually get us somewhere. I can also say unequivocally that this is probably the most over-engineered thing you’ll ever see, but I can also say it was a lot of fun researching it and designing it. Realistically, the one thing I would change is the length of the 2 x 4 struts at the bottom of the pole that accommodate the weights. If I had left them longer, the weight that is placed on them could better assist me putting the post back to the vertical position. It’s all about the physics. Sure I can manage it, but when I am 110 years old, no way. Yes, I can retrofit a frame that would fit on the post that would accommodate more weight, but I’m not there yet.

I would also consider lowering the axle/fulcrum of the post. I’m 6 feet tall and it seems a bit high. I honestly don’t think a shorter individual (5’?) could manage this current arrangement.

I would be happy to answer any questions anybody might have. Feel free to contact me off list.

Paul Cypher
New Boston, MI

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