Build a Simple Owl Dwelling

Entice a variety of owls to nest around your homestead with this simple and versatile DIY home that they can return to year after year.

Photo by Sean Stiny

I first stumbled into making owl boxes through a request from a local nursery here in Sonoma County, California. I was happy to jump at the chance to help, and now I’ve made upwards of 70 owl dwellings — nearly an entire avian subdivision.

Expert birders and random observers alike are fascinated by owls, part bird of prey, part ghost in the night. It continues to be a rare delight when I spot one gliding silently on its evening hunt. They’re excellent at controlling pest populations in fields and vineyards. Their menu is anything small and furry, including mice, shrews, voles, and gophers, and you can see their hunting success firsthand in the regurgitated pellets scattered below their dwellings. Tiny white bones dot the grass below their enclaves. Beyond fulfilling their duty as pest exterminators, though, owls are alluring creatures to host on your property.

An owl box, in which an owl can nest protected from predators, is simple in design and execution. Alongside a handful of other subtle details, it’s really just a rectangular box that will attract many species, from barn and barred owls to short-eared and great horned owls. I make my boxes out of sanded exterior plywood. You can buy a finely sanded 3/4-inch sheet for around $40, but I’ve learned that the thinner 15/32-inch sheet, while a grade lower in quality, works well for both my wallet ($17) and the weight of the box. Keep in mind that you’ll have to hoist this thing onto a mounting pole, into the crotch of a tree, or onto the edge of a barn.

You can make two owl boxes with one 4x8 sheet of plywood. Even if you’re only making a single box, I recommend buying a full 4x8 sheet; you might as well have some left over for another project. Most home improvement stores have a panel saw and a plucky employee in the lumber department who will cut the plywood for you. Ask them to cut the sheet into thirds, 48 by 32 inches apiece. This will help you more easily maneuver the sheets into your vehicle.

Once you’re back at your shop, follow these easy steps for cutting and assembly. Every time I begin another project, the plywood going through the table saw produces a pine fragrance I’d wear as cologne if bottled. I’d call this one Eau de Owl Box.

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