Owlbox Construction and Box Improvements
Box is located about 16 feet above ground level. Dimensions - Length 30", Height 18", Width 16" (left-to-right dimension seen on interior camera), Porthole 6" diam. (and about 6" above box floor)
Playground for branching and flappersize
Owl box version V1.0 was erected in mid-November 2010 with fours sides, a floor, and a hinged flat-roof covered with sheet metal. Initially there was only a simple perch just beneath the doorway. Enter the learning process... and the first version of a simple infra red bird box cam that gave mediocre night views in green hues, and less than satisfying daytime views - having a fixed focus and fixed position.
During the first week of December, while plugging the camera into a portable TV to have a quick peek, the ghostly white image of some sort of critter appeared in front of the lens! It was Mel - he'd found the box in just 2 weeks after installation! Two or three nights later, there were two "whatever they are" owl-like creatures in the box! Snow owls perhaps? Hard to tell with only a grainy greenish-white overexposed night vision image that lacked focus and mobility, but exciting nevertheless. It was about this time that yours truly geeked-out the possibilities of transmitting the images over the internet, despite all the makeshift lamp-cord cabling, exposed poorly soldered connections, duct tape, smoke, and mirrors.... we went live on December 14 2010 and two viewers stumbled into the chat that same night - three's a crowd and we were on our way!
So we had an owl box with owls in it and could peek to see what they were doing - mission accomplished, right?
No way even close!
There was much to do and much to learn through December, which happened to be the wettest one on record in San Diego. Being the perfectionist, my efforts to make all the joints in the box watertight paid off, but why did Mel spend over four hours one night sitting atop the pole in the driving rain getting soaked, rather than enjoy the shelter of his new home? The small camera had sound and told us the answer straight away - owls can hear a rodent at over 50 feet so the noise of the rain on the tin roof must have been deafening (lesson #1).
Look and learn and above all "Think ahead" (lesson #2). What's going to happen over the next few months - bonding, eggs, hatching, feeding, horking, growing, flapping, venturing out, exercising, playing, jumping, first fledgling flight, and more growing and feeding, until young owls-to-be finally leave... and we all wanted to watch as best we could - a challenge to tackle with enthusiasm. The learning curve was ascended quickly and it was clear that owl box version #1 wasn't going to meet our needs. The importance of branching facilities soon became apparent and was confirmed by advice from the experts (lesson #3) - it was a straight drop down to the ground from the doorway and unlike the bark of trees (owls are great climbers), the owlets wouldn't have anything to grip on to when they emerged, and even Mel and Sydney had trouble gaining a proper talon-hold on the metal roof.
Access to the top of the mast and the owl box was made simple, thanks to lesson #2 which led to the design of a swing pole that dropped everything to ground level. The box was down at least three days during the week and all weekends through December while the owls weren't in permanent residence in the day - great for tinkering with different cameras (lessons #3 to #6) and trying various improvements. Thus was born the final design for owl box version V2.0 which went up for trials after Xmas, with attachments removed (for later installation) so as not to spook the owls with too much of a change from the old box.
So what are the key features of the new owl box?
- More interior space, measuring 16" x 30" long and 18" high, which turned out beautifully to accommodate owl team six
- A hollow roof cavity with an upper space for the insulation layer and a lower space open to each long side and the wind, to help ventilate air from the box through large holes in the ceiling
- Low angle sheet-metal roof and all nails capped with a blob of roofing tar to guarantee complete watertightness
- Short pile outdoor carpete surface layer on the roof (and porch) that serves a number of purposes, dulls the rain noise, affords excellent grip without catching sharp talons, adds further insulation from the midday sun (reduces the sheet metal getting hot), and provides a cushioned landing and jumping play area for owlets
- Porch area extending around two sides of the box, convenient as a landing and perching area for spreading wings and posing, and serves as a sprinboard for jumping onto the roof
- Electronic transmitting thermometer attched to the ceiling to remotely monitor the temperature in the box - especially important in the heat of summer to know when to lightly mist the roof with water for added cooling
- Three large circular window holes covered and sealed with plexiglass to provide exceptional day-lighting for high definition camera viewing. The windows had to be on the north side, away from the sun angle, to avoid heat problems.
- Extended playground area with additional perches and a long suspended ladder and platform arrangement leading past palm tree #1, the first thing the owlets see when they look out on the world, which is why they are so attracted to it. Now playground hangs past the palms where the action is, instead of over to the house, so clutch #2 should be much more fun to broadcast with cam #3 in perfect position.
- East-facing door to catch the morning dawn and not the warm afternoon sun.
- Detachable and water-tight camera box that can be removed in seconds by releasing a few clips - "Hark, what hork and schmutz on yonder cam lens flings?" Owlets flap and fling with glee so I had to clean the grime off the lense as often as twice a day when they were learning to spread their wings!
- Cameras... Let's just say that there was much tinkering, much learning, failures, striving for 'more gooder', experimentaion with angles, distance, and lighting, a few pennies shed, secret sauce with herbs and spices, and we ended up with four spare cameras by the time we were mildly satisfied with the results we see today.
Our suggestion that people mount all of their nest boxes facing East. The reason for this is that the jet stream rarely moves directly east to west, so the front of the nest boxes is always protected from rain and wind. Furthermore, the moon and sun both rise in the east.
This illuminates the front of the nest box during a full moon or earlier dawn helping the Barn Owls find the nest box faster.
Mel and Sydney just call it "Home"