Two Owls and a Hawk
from Oak Park Community Garden
TWO OWLS AND A HAWK
SOME HISTORY IS NEEDED HERE... I'm not an original Oak Park Community Gardener, so don't quote me
on this, but I believe our existing owl box was installed at approximately the same time the garden was
developed — some eight years ago. Since then we have watched and waited, and have seen squirrels coming and going, surveying thier buffet, deciding which parcel from which they would like to dine that particular
afternoon. We've been flummoxed about this, but until recently have collectively shrugged our shoulders and
turned back to the gardening at hand.
Earlier this year, during the Earth Day celebration at Oak Park High School, a couple of our gardeners who
were staffing our booth met up with representatives from Ojai Raptor Center (ORC), who had set up a booth
displaying some of their unreleasable birds. ORC takes in over 300 injured and/or orphaned raptors annually,
rehabilitates them, and releases them back into nature. This chance meeting turned out to be the start of
FAST FORWARD TO JULY 4TH 2011. While playing with her grandchildren in the living room, one of our
gardeners watched a young red shouldered hawk land in her small enclosed patio. After a couple of hours of
watching it make failed escape attempts, she called ORC who's volunteers collected her stranded bird (who
she had already named Jim) and drove him up to Ojai for the care he needed.
Meanwhile, during the month of July, a group of dedicated gardeners were deep into researching the proper
owl box construction and positioning. Together they remodeled, refurbished, and relocated our owl box to a
suitable spot; facing south, under the shade of a huge oak tree with a clear flight path for easy access. Just
in time. ORC had notified us they had a pair of barn owls ready for
release, and Jim the hawk was coming as well.
JULY 27TH: Three volunteers from ORC arrived with "our" raptors
around 6:00 in the evening. First, the hawk release... This is Jackie, a
volunteer from ORC. We can't say enough good things about her.
She was knowledgeable, friendly, informative, caring, and obviously
incredibly dedicated to these birds. Look at that smile. This is Jim the
red-shouldered hawk. After a few brief moments of oohs and aahs
from his admirers, Jackie released Jim and he took a low flight path
— barely over our heads — into an oak tree.
ORC bands each bird, then
they make every attemt to
release them back into the
area from which they came. In
Jim's case, the tree he flew to
was less than a half-mile from
where he fell into our gardener's patio. Notice in the right
bottom corner of the photo
above, a camera lense pointed skyward. There were many
cameras clicking, but Jim flew
about 50 yards in around 3
seconds, so the likelihood of anyone getting a really good shot of him in flight is pretty slim.
AND THEN THERE WERE OWLS Next we headed toward that same oak tree, under which we had relocated our refurbished owl residence. Jim could be seen testing out different vantage points higher up in
Jackie climbed up and dropped in a few (deceased) mice so our owls would have nourishment while
acclimating to their new home. Her assistant handed up the first box...
She took out the first barn owl, a beautiful young male. He
flapped a bit, but settled down and posed for our pictures
(right). She stuffed him in the entrance and plugged the hole
with that wad of newspaper you see wedged in the brances
of the tree in the above two pictures.
Next came the female (next page). She was clearly frightened. Upon emerging from her traveling box, she turned and
tried to bite Jackie's arm. (There's a reason for those thick
leather gloves!) There was much flapping and flopping, but
ORC volunteers are expertly trained in handling wild birds,
and Jackie gently and confidently dealt with it all. Into the
box she went; again followed by the newspaper.
We were instructed to leave the newspaper
in the entrance until the following evening,
at which time, if they hadn't pushed it out,
to remove it. The picture below shows the
owl box with the (hopefully) happy couple
These two are about one year old and are not quite sexually
mature, but will be soon. We're hoping they like each other, and
that they'll stay and raise a clutch of babies here.
The following evening two of us
returned to check on our new friends.
Apparently they were comfortable
inside, as there was no change from
the previous evening. As per instructions, what we did is seen here:
We stood nearby for a few minutes and
saw a face moving inside, but nobody
came all the way up to the opening. We
moved about 40 yards away and waited, but it got too dark and I was getting bitten by mosquitos, so we loaded
up our ladder and went home. We're so
excited! We're thinking about taking
lawn chairs up there in the evening to
wait for them to emerge in the dark! (Long sleeves, night vision glasses, and bug repellant, too. Like
that's going to happen.)
And that was it! The whole raptor-release event took less than an hour — a seemingly short amount of
time. For several of us, though, it was the joyous culmination of our coordinated effort to bring natural
critter control to our garden, and the community, and to give these beautiful birds a place to live their
lives as they were intended to do.
ABOUT BARN OWLS
NUTS AND BOLTS:
• General Facts: Barn owls aren't very big — males,
14-19 ounces; females, 17-25 ounces. Likewise the
females are slightly longer and have slightly wider
wingspans; from 43 yo 47 inches.
• Barn owls are monogamous (one mate). They are
not aggressive toward other barn owls and can nest
within a half mile of other pairs. Barn owls are sexually
mature at 1 year of age and, because they have a
short lifespan, they breed only once or twice. They
nest in both natural and human-made sites, which are
generally used repeatedly by other barn owls throughout the years. Nest sites include tree cavities, barns,
abandoned and occupied buildings, and chimneys.
Males use a courtship call to show the female the nest
• Eggs are laid every other day for a total of 4 to 6
eggs on average. The female incubates the eggs for
30-34 days, starting when the first egg is laid.
Hatching occurs in the same order as the eggs were
laid, so a gradation of ages and sizes can be observed
in a brood. The young are fed by both adults for
approximately 2 months. The adult male does most of
the hunting and feeding.
• The barn owl has exceptionally keen hearing and
eyesight, making it a very effective hunter. It can see
during the day, but its relatively small eyes (for an owl)
are directed forward and are better adapted for night
vision. The ears are asymmetrical; one is level with the
nostril and the other is higher, nearer the forehead.
They are covered with feathered flaps that close for
loud noises and open for soft sounds. The barn owl's
hearing is so sharp that it can easily hunt for voles and
shrews, which are often concealed from view as they
travel in runways beneath the grass. A family of 2
adults and 6 young may consume over 1,000 rodents
during the 3-month nesting period.
• Barn owls make a wide variety of sounds. The most
common adult sounds are alarm shrieks, conversational calls (shorter, less intense shrieks), and a rapid
squeaking or ticking, which is associated with the pair.
The rasping, food-begging call of the young can be
heard almost continuously from soon after sunset until
just before sunrise. The young also hiss and bill-click
• While perched, the barn owl has a habit of lowering
its head and swaying from side to side. The bird
sleeps so soundly during the day that it is difficult to
wake it up until darkness arrives.
VISIT THE OJAI RAPTOR CENTER WEBSITE: ojairaptercenter.org
ORC is solely operated by volunteers thoroughly trained in the care and handling of raptors. Although
they specialize in raptors, ORC volunteers also work with songbirds and other wildlife, bringing the total
number of birds taken in to more than 1000 annually!
In addition to rehabilitating birds, ORC has a Wildlife Education Program which teaches the community
about our local wildlife and the environment and explains what individuals can do to help. They bring live,
non-releasable ambassador birds into the classroom and other venues to illustrate the behaviors and
essential roles each raptor species plays in its natural habitat.
BUILD A BOX:
There are many online sources where you can obtain plans to build your own owl box. THIS ONE
(http://www.scvas.org/pdf/cbrp/BuildingBarnOwlBoxes.pdf) is the exact one we have intstalled at Oak
Park Community Garden, and is based on plans from owl-box-builder-extrordinaire, Steve Simmons and
provided by the Santa Clara Valley Audobon Society. It includes suggetions on mounting, placement and
maintenance, as well as much other relevant information.
See you next month.
—Vicki Rankin, Oak Park Community Garden