Putting up a barn owl box

After living for several weeks with a half finished barn owl house in the middle of our living room, we formulated a 2 point plan to increase the chance of owls actually using it:
1. Finish off the owl house
2. Put it outside

I felt that designing these steps was enough of an achievement for one day, and that the enactment of this plan could be put off to some point in the future. However, our friend Dan was visiting and he takes a somewhat more proactive approach in these situations.

Before I knew it, an old and untested ladder had been placed against the tall tree at the end of our garden, and Dan disappeared into the foliage. The tree seemed to resent this approach and swayed violently in the stormy weather, occasionally expressing its displeasure by heartily slapping me in the face with one of its rain soaked branches as I helplessly held onto the bottom rung of the ladder.

Dan tidied a space for the bird box by removing a few dead branches and identifying some good anchor points for our as-yet-undesigned birdbox-tree attachment system. The space had to be big enough for the large box to rest directly against the trunk and also allow a clear, open flight path for the owls to come and go. Dan shouted down a measurement: “The height’s only 29 is that going to be big enough?”. Ever a stickler for health & safety, I did not want to leave my post as primary ladder holder, so asked Jane to go inside and measure the height of the owl box. “Its 73cm” came the reply.

As the wind howled we debated for a few moments whether it would be best in future to agree a standard unit of measurement across all team members, and that maybe metric was preferable as that is something of a standard nowadays, until Dan raised a concern that he was actually still at the top of a ladder in a gale, and perhaps someone could just look at the tape measure to see if 73cm is less than 29 inches and worry about standardising units of measurement later on.

With this preliminary visit to the tree completed, we returned to the cottage to fit the roof felt to the owl box and try and work out how we were going to get it up into the tree and attach it in the newly cleared space.

After discussing wooden brackets, fixing directly to the tree with screws and bizarrely using tractor tyre inner tubes, we settled on the idea of using ratchet straps to keep the box in place. We would hook a rope around a branch above the space and pull the box up that way.

On returning from a trip into town to buy all the ropes and straps we needed, Dan was immediately back up the ladder with the classic owl-box-attachers tool kit of a garden rake and a pair of kitchen scissors. We attached the rope to the box, threw the other end over a branch and began to pull the box up.

Its quite a nerve wracking thing to watch your best friend at the top of a ladder holding on with one hand to a wet, slippery branch as the wind repeatedly smashes a large wooden box into his midriff.

We showed our support and concern by pulling faces at him and taking photos.

Dan put the box in its place and I tied the rope at ground level to hold it there temporarily – then it was my turn to go up the ladder. We didn’t really have a proper plan of how to use the straps and ropes to hold the box in place, but after a period of trial and error, some precarious balancing on branches and hugging of tree trunks, the box was finally attached.

We then ran the camera cable down the garden and into the house and immediately viewed the video feed to see if any owls had snuck inside without us noticing.

Alas the box was empty, as you might expect. But we left the camera on as we sat down to enjoy a few beers from the local brewery.

Jane, who had remained on the ground throughout this process and spent most of the time laughing at us, reflected that “I am really glad I got my owl box up today – it was so straightforward”. As we nursed our cuts and bruises, strained muscles and the like, Dan and I rolled our eyes at this observation, but we both secretly knew we’d loved every minute of it.


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