- UK population and distribution.
- Habitat creation.
- Little Owl boxes.
- Nestbox construction.
- Nestbox erection and monitoring.
- Little Owl identification.
Following their introduction in the late 1800s, successful spread and subsequent decline, we now have around 6,000 pairs of Little Owls in Britain. They are widely distributed across much of England but absent from Ireland, and almost all of Scotland, scarce in Cheshire, Wales, Devon and Cornwall. Between 1995 and 2010 Little Owls declined by an estimated 40% particularly in the western part of their range.
They are found in a range of habitats but usually do best in areas of mixed farmland. They also seem to favour old orchards although they are not woodland birds. If you’ve seen an owl and you’re not sure if it was a Little Owl check our owl identification guide.
Little Owls are a cavity-nesting species, with nests recorded in rock crags, rabbit holes and haystacks as well as in buildings and tree holes. Little Owls are faithful to their nest sites and will return year after year provided both of the pair survive. Eggs are normally laid during April and the young fledge in June or July.
Habitat creation takes the form of encouraging land-use diversity. Try for areas with some rough grassland, some shorter grass, bare ground, as well as crops and orchards.
The use of nestboxes by Little Owls seems to vary from country to country and county to county. In Saarland and Bavaria in Germany the population has seen an increase attributed to nestbox schemes. In Wiltshire and in Lincolnshire nestboxes appear to be readily occupied by the birds but in Cheshire they have been slower to use artificial sites. It may simply be that in some areas there are sufficient natural sites for the birds and in others a shortage of sites inhibits the population so the provision of owl boxes creates an opportunity for expansion.
A wide variety of nestbox designs have been used by Little Owls. The essential design requirements are; a very small entrance hole (70mm), a narrow tunnel or baffle arrangement, and a dark nesting chamber. The nest box design featured here has been particularly successful in Lincolnshire with boxes installed in open-sided farm buildings (both traditional and modern types) and “crew yards”. The Barn Owl Trust is grateful to Bob Sheppard for providing the details. Bob’s design is simple to build, the access door makes cleaning out very easy, and the depth of the box helps to prevent the young from falling out of the box prematurely.
The box is made of 12mm tanalised softwood ply and held together with 40mm rust-proof screws. Please avoid using hardwood ply unless it is stamped ‘FSC Approved’. Consider the proposed location of the box when deciding on the position of the access hole and internal baffles. Wherever possible the box should be positioned in such a way as to allow the owls to walk out onto a branch or wall top. Construct the sides first and then cut the floor to fit within the sides as this helps to keep the interior dry. The removable panel that allows access to the main chamber should always be incorporated. Use brass hinges to prevent rusting and remember when you fit the panel that wood swells when damp.
If located outdoors, use thick roofing felt on top of the box, drill a 10mm (½”) drainage hole in each corner of the floor, treat with creosote substitute and allow to dry thoroughly for 2 or 3 days before erection. All joints should be sealed with good quality sealant such as ‘Ever Build – Weather Mate’.
If located in a very sheltered position (ideally in a building), a small ‘exercise platform’ can be added immediately below the entrance hole and above the inspection hatch. However, in an exposed position the addition of a platform could cause rain to splash into the entrance hole (this could wet the nest contents and should be avoided). Providing a perch just in front of the box could be beneficial. Or buy a Little Owl box that’s built to last.
The box should be erected horizontally a minimum of 3 metres (10′) above the ground on a wall top, beam or tree branch so that owlets can walk in and out prior to fledging. Little Owls seem to prefer nestboxes placed in open-sided or open fronted buildings rather than enclosed types. For monitoring the occupation of boxes it is useful to paint a ring of Tippex around the entrance hole and watch for its discolouration. A thin layer of untreated wood shavings or bark can be provided as a floor covering. After 2 or 3 years of occupation the box should be cleared out during autumn or winter.
You are responsible for your own safety – please assess the risks and be careful.