Now is the time to clean out your barn owl nesting boxes, which depending on where you live are usually empty from Halloween until early December!  Much like teenagers, the owls don’t clean out their own nests (which they create from regurgitated pellets – gross), so you need to help out your rodent-eating friends by removing the nests and replacing them with pine, fir, or hardwood mulch (avoid cedar and straw).  Nests need to be cleaned out every year to keep the owls safe and healthy, and to ensure there is enough space inside for an owl family.  One family can create over three inches of nest debris every season!

Signs of Occupation

Signs of an occupied barn owl box include:

  • a dark ring and scratches around the entry hole
  • pellet debris hanging from the drainage holes
  • young owls hissing and clicking their teeth (often described as a metallic clicking sound)
  • adult owls flying around the box, possibly shrieking, during the hour after sunset

An occupied Barn Owl Box at Blagg Farms. PHOTO: Amy Blagg

You may find none of the above signs of occupancy, but the box could still be inhabited.  To be cautious and respectful, gently bang on the mounting pole or post to alert any owls of your presence.  If an owl is in the box when it is opened, close the box and come back later.

How to Clean Out a Barn Owl Box

Using a ladder to reach an owl box is quite dangerous, so it is better to bring the box down by lifting the mounting pole up over the stem pole and laying it down.  Before opening the box door, put on long rubber gloves and a dust mask to avoid inhaling dust from the debris.  Use a metal tool to scrape the debris out of the box.  During cleaning, the box should be inspected for damage, and appropriate repairs done.

NOTE: Although rare, cleaning the box can cause exposure to Hantavirus (Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome), carried by field mice. Once the debris is on the ground, it is harmless.

Children engaged in learning about the food chain! PHOTO: WOW Museum of Lodi

Owl Pellet Donations

Since our March 2017 Lodi Grower Newsletter request, the Children’s WOW Science Museum has received over 800 owl pellets…and the kids have really enjoyed dissecting all of them!  THANK YOU!  WOW is ready for more pellets – please drop off your owl pellets at the WOW Museum in a ziploc bag any day except Tuesday, between the hours of 10am to 5pm. Their address is:  2 North Sacramento St, Lodi, CA 95240. 209.368.0969



The Amador Barn Owl Box Company produces locally-made wooden barn owl boxes.  You can find them online and also in the 2017 Lodi Vineyard Supplier Directory.

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