Sunday, January 10, 2010

Owl Box Work, Sorta

As usual, I'm doing this later than I should have, but fans of Chris' Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam' will be interested to know that—better late than never—I am in the process of preparing the box for owl occupation. At the moment, the major work is on fox squirrel eviction. As always, I hate kicking out the little mammals, especially when the weather has been so bad, and pups may be on the way (or arrived?), but fox squirrels have no shortage of nesting opportunities, since they can make their own nests, while screech owls depend on finding existing nesting cavities, so the owls need help and the squirrels don't. Except that the trees have now lost their leaves, so good nest building material is currently unavailable to the squirrels. Which brings me back to feeling rotten about evicting whatever sensible squirrel inevitably claims the owl box around this time of year. (Sigh.)

So, my squirrel eviction has, as of this weekend, been focused on converting a bird roosting box that I built 13(?) years ago, and that has been gathering dust in my garage for about as long, into a fancy fox squirrel nest box. I gave up on the roosting box, because, even in the coldest local weather, I never saw any indication that birds used it, and, worse, starlings would nest in it in the spring. Unfortunately, back then I was doing very simple nail & glue woodworking, not the proper woodworking of box- and dovetail-joints that I used on the modular, camera-ridden owl nest box that has served me so well for the past eleven years. So, the old roosting box needed reinforcing; refinishing (with multiple coats of exterior latex paint, instead of the so-called "waterproofing" agent I used way back when); a totally different internal arrangement; a new, relocated entryway; and so on. It also needed a mount in the relevant tree, and, because there isn't a straight limb anywhere in that tree, some means to keep the box vertical, and to provide a path from the tree to the box's entrance. Almost all of that is done now.

Also, I've brought down the owl nest box, and removed a fallen limb that had fouled the system of pulleys and cables that allow me to hoist the box in and out of the tree.

There are still plenty of problems, however. For one thing, my local owls may not be looking for a new nest site, or may have already selected another one. For another, I still haven't written the software, or added the necessary hardware, to integrate a new analog-to-digital converter to my computer and the box's infrared entryway sensor, so I'll have no way of knowing if the owls are checking-out the nest box. Also, Apple has dropped QuickTime for Java from their current system software (yes, it was always a rotten API seemingly built of bailing wire & spit, but, since they've provided no replacement, they've made this developer very unhappy). As a result, my custom frame-grabbing, noise reducing, image enhancing, image uploading and web page building code can't run on modern Macs. I'll have to bring an old Mac out of retirement, which is just that much more extra work I could do without. And, ultimately, it'll be a support burden. (Grumble.)

There's also the matter of transplanting the squirrel. It almost certainly won't cooperate with such an effort, and, yet, if all I succeed in doing is scaring it away, my recent work to create a squirrel nest box as a salve for my conscience will have been in vain. It's an imperfect plan—knew that when I started—but it's the only plan I've got.

And the cleanup job on the interior of the owl nest box is likely to be a much bigger issue than usual, due to the fact that a swarm of honeybees (or the highly misrepresented Africanized "killer" bees – who can tell which is which?), took up residence in the box this spring. By the summer they'd either moved out, or died off. In any case, the cleanup effort was begun promptly when the local squirrels raided the box for every bit of honey-laden comb they could carry off. Thank you, squirrels – good eating for you, and one less messy job for me.

Oh, and to top it all off, the punishing drought we endured this year may have killed the owl box tree, in spite of the fact that it's old, very well established, and has been through droughts before. Right now, all I know is that it dropped all of its leaves mid-summer. Maybe it went dormant at that point, and will make a comeback this spring. Or maybe it died. Not being an arborist, I know of no way to tell at this point. I'll just have to wait and see. If it died, that may not present a structural problem for years, but the owlets, after leaving the nest, tend to depend on the foliage of the nest tree for their initial shelter. If the tree is dead, there won't be any such shelter.

Problems. Always problems. (Sigh.)


  1. Glad to hear you are attempting it! If the world does not come to an end I will check back. Love those Owls!

  2. Glad you are making an attempt. Hope the tree is stillhas life but everything comes and goes.I sure do love those little owls.

  3. Susan G.9:34 AM CST

    But we are happy you want to try again this year to make everyone happy with the thought, "we can see baby squirrels!".
    thanks for all your hard work.

  4. Alison in Indiana7:27 PM CST

    Thanks for your efforts. Yours is the second of my favorite owl cams that have been without owls for a couple of seasons (the first being owlcam in Mass.) and I hope sincerely that your efforts are rewarded and no shoulders are damaged in the process.

  5. Thanks Alison, I've also been disappointed by the absence of the barred owls from the OwlCam. With regard to my shoulder, it hasn't acted up for quite some time now, so I hope that it has repaired itself, or I've learned to use it more sensibly, or both.

  6. Thanks Chris for keeping at it. I have really missed your cam. Gizmo, my Mountain Feist, keeps the squirrels run off my property pretty well, but it doesn't work on the deer, or the fire ants... Good Luck!

  7. Robin/Southlake Texas10:30 AM CST

    If you could put the box up, minus the web cam this year (squirrels evicted) and post a weekly owl update, on your blog, I'd like that. I very much enjoyed your web cam over the years and have looked forward to finding out if you had owls nesting again. Because of your site, I've had a nest box up for about 5 years and for about a month now, an owl has been roosting in it. I'm hoping for a family as the E. Screech Owl, which was roosting in it last year at this time, left after a month or so. I've learned a lot about E. Screech Owls from you.
    Thanks Chris!