Barn Owl Boxes


My Owl Boxes, My Story

I began my falconry career in 1967. He was just a tiny Kestrel named EGOR but he was a dream come true. In 1989, I began breeding raptors. My project produced 102 endangered Peregrine falcons and 31 California State endangered Harris’s Hawks in 19 years of raptor propagation.

Decades of Experience

In 1983, while flying a tiercel (male) Prairie falcon in the lovely San Pasqual Valley of San Diego County, I was hired by a local vineyard manager to scare away starlings which had been eating his Chardonnay grapes. This was my first of many falconry bird control contracts, a cottage industry that I started then with many falconers who are currently enjoying success across the country.

By 1991, I had worked in orchards, vineyards, landfills, and a number of contracts with the US AIR FORCE. I was featured in Nat Geo and the Animal Planet TV shows flying my falcons. In total I had worked over 50 contracts.

I had an existing tree service (certified arborist w.e.3031) and had begun to install barn owl nesting boxes for my clients. Overworked and understaffed, I hired a falconer friend to manage the bird control contracts. After his third season, I was shocked to find that he, now knowing all my methods, had bid against me and taken all five of my existing contracts! I was devastated. In short order, I lost my contracts, my friend and half my income. But soon I had come to realize that life’s a teacher and I needed a lesson.

Not long before this, I had moved a client’s owl box high in a tree that I was about to trim. She got owls in three nights. All her friends bought boxes from me so I started advertising. In short order, a San Diego Union reporter did a full page article on my company. The phone rang off the proverbial hook! I put up 250 boxes the first year, with 200 hundred of those being active nest sites.

The curator of birds of the San Diego Natural History museum informed me that I had doubled the known barn owl population of SD County in the first 12 months! I was really enjoying my new found love.

All of these boxes were mounted in trees but in my fifth year 1996, I had figured out how to install them on galvanized metal poles. The idea came to me at 2:00 a.m. in a dream. This greatly expanded the potential market as not everybody had a good tree.

The next problem to solve, and it was a real dilly, was how to prevent bees from colonizing the boxes. A bee man told me of a chemical in 1997 that would keep the bees away. Problem was it was toxic to birds if ingested. Soon I had figured out how to soak it in the ceiling wood with added oil. Problem solved! All of the boxes that I’ve installed since then are treated in this manner.

In 1996, my mechanic built an owl box for me to look at. It was the wrong size and had a round hole up high. I explained to him that the chicks will die in heat waves there if they can’t get air. I showed him the correct size to remake the box and the correct shape and placement of the doorway. It looked like a house but too plain to market. So as he added some trim, I added a gnarly piece of eucalyptus tree branch for a perch. Between him and I, I had a new product! This is now my Ornate model.

An exclusive arrangement that mutually benefited each other was struck there and then on that May day of 1997, he sold only to me and I in turn bought only from him. This agreement worked for the next 18 years. Over ten thousand Ornate owl boxes were installed by me but built by him under verbal contract.

In time, my good friend began to say things, little Freudian slips as they say, that were warning signs that I refused to believe. Signs of greed and treachery. One day he told of his manifesto to compete with me, he built what were once my boxes with his son installing them! Ah life.

My friend passed away last year but his son is in business. That’s fine. He has every right to own a company. HH’s uncle is a webmaster and they’ve built a beautiful website. But his claims that he is an expert is less than true. He’s never owned a single raptor or any bird that I know of.

I tell you this because armed with the truth, you may make an informed decision on who to hire for your new barn owl nesting box.

By the way, I install owl boxes in trees. If you own a suitable tree that is the best place for the young to fledge. Clambering around in the branches is where they naturally learn to fly. I also install Bat boxes, American Kestrel boxes, Screech owl and Barred Owl boxes!

Tom Stephan