Advice on owl nest boxes


• Boxes should be sited about 8ft  - 15ft off the ground

• Owls look for holes, so make sure that the entrance hole is visible to any passing owls.

• Do not site boxes near main roads or within 1/2 mile of motorways or dual carriageways, due to high risk of road fatalities.

• Boxes should be installed in open countryside close to areas of suitable vole-rich hunting habitat

• Barn owls are a Schedule 1 species and so should not be disturbed in any way during the breeding season - nest box inspection should only be carried out by a licensed person.

• Barn owls are generally nervous in the first year of using a new nesting site, and prone to desert the site if disturbed -  once they have successfully bred, they are less likely to desert.

• They will tolerate general activity around the nest box during the day (farm vehicles, dogs, children playing etc). but they don’t like surprises!

• If jackdaws begin to nest in box entrance corridor, this should be cleared immediately to avoid adults or young being trapped in box (applies to certain box designs)

• Ensure there is an area for young fledglings to exercise (shelf built into box design, beams, etc)

• It can take over two years for a box to be used, so be patient! The odds will always increase if there is lots of vole-rich habitat in the immediate area.


• Hunting habitats are essential to the success of artificial nest sites, and so habitat creation such as field margins and set aside for voles, woodland cover for wood mice, insecticide-free field habitats for invertebrates etc  are crucial to the success of these boxes and baskets. Without a reliable source of food, breeding success will be very limited.

• Natural material can be put inside nest boxes to provide material for a scrape e.g., leaf mulch, shredded paper etc - (Nb. Do not use sawdust as this can be harmful to birds if swallowed)

• Boxes may not always be used, but if they remain in place, they can provide a roost for owls during the winter and eventually may be used if an existing natural site is lost.

• Boxes can often be occupied by unwelcome squatters, such as squirrels, jackdaws etc. Once this has been positively established, these unwelcome guests should be evicted asap to ensure the box is available for the target species of owl.

• Owl nest boxes are unlikely to be used for breeding unless there is suitable habitats nearby. Click here for advice on habitats.

• Owls are low-flying birds and nest boxes for barn, tawny and little owls only need to be 6 - 12 ft off the ground. Boxes in danger of being interfered with by vandals should be positioned higher, with this in mind.

• Tawny owl, little owl and long-eared owl chicks all leave the nest at 3 - 4 weeks and will adventure away from the nest - provision should be made for this natural behaviour.

• Barn owl chicks do not ‘branch’ in the same way as the other species, and will only be fed by the parents in the nest, so any chicks found on the floor will need rescuing. Click here for advice on finding chicks.

• To establish if a nest site is being used, it is necessary to observe quietly the box/basket in the breeding season from a non-intrusive distance, and preferably under camouflage.  An adult observed bringing food to the nest would either be a male delivering food to a brooding female, or male/female delivering food to chicks - this will be confirmed by loud hissing from the chicks on receiving food (louder as they get older). Branched chicks will call for food from the tree canopy and will be found and fed by the parents.

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Independent wildlife educator and owl specialist Ian McGuire