Hoots up There? Building a Barred Owl Box

Barred Owl box hung with porch. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Finished! Barred Owl box hung with the porch. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

I’m a real bird-watching fan, and I participate in Project Feederwatch. I’m also an advanced amateur photographer. I love taking pictures of birds at my feeder and in the spring, I’ve been known to spend hours watching and photographing the activity at our Bluebird box. We even put up a new Brown Nuthatch box this past spring. So it came as no surprise to my guy, Don, that I wanted a Barred Owl box. We often hear them at night out in the yard, so I figured we may get lucky and have them nest in a box where we could enjoy watching them come and go. I did some research and found a great site and nest box plan. After spending some time reviewing the project, we purchased the necessary parts (see Parts List below) and got busy.

I’ll overview our project in this article, but you should also refer to the nest box plan, as I don’t want to duplicate all of the original work and instructions here.

We broke the project up into several steps. One the first project day, we cut out the wood. We were using a piece of treated plywood that we already had, and it was a bit wet, so we needed to let it dry out well.

On the second project day, we stained the outside of all of the wood box pieces. Our wood was nice and weathered and easily absorbed the stain. We waited a couple of hours between coats per product instructions and then applied a second coat. Note that we did use a belt sander before staining, to sand just the opening edges and the porch edges.

Staining the box parts before assembly. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Staining the box parts before assembly. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

On the third project day, we assembled the box. We used a large number of good quality 2-inch deck screws. There is no way this box is coming apart!

Assembling the box. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Assembling the box. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

We held off attaching the porch until the box was in the tree, so that it wouldn’t be in the way. I was super impressed at how the project was coming along so far and so quickly, too. But this was the easy part; we knew the hard part was yet to come! We didn’t weigh the box, but it must have weighed 80 pounds.

Assembled box. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Assembled box. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

We spent a few minutes walking our yard and deciding for sure which tree to mount the box on. Note that the box only needs to be mounted 15 to 20 feet high, but that the tree needs to be substantial enough to hold the weight.

On the fourth project day, it was time to hang the box. We decided to add some shingles since we had some on hand. We drilled the vent holes in the bottom and tree side of the box. We drilled two small holes for the wire rope on the top tree side of the box. We also collected some pine straw from the yard and put it into the bottom of the box.

The box with shingles. Photo: Maryann Goldman
The box with shingles. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

It was handy that we had a hand truck to move the box to the tree. A wheel barrow, lawn cart, or a couple of guys could have moved it too.

Preparing to hoist the box into the tree. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

We used a tree pruning pole that extends to 15 feet to lift the rope up over that really high tree branch. We also had to use the pole to pull on the end of the rope to bring it back down. The rope had a clamp on the end of it to give it some weight and to provide a surface big enough to grab onto.

Putting the ropes in place. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Putting the ropes in place. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

We were going to hoist the box up just by pulling on the rope, but why do that when you have a tractor-mounted winch you can use? Don was able to use a rope to keep the box a few inches away from the tree trunk, as the winch easily pulled the box up the side of the tree.

The winch! Photo: Maryann Goldman
The winch! Photo: Maryann Goldman.

We used vinyl coated wire, wire clamps, and a lag screw to mount the box to the tree. We had a small branch near the mount spot, but I felt more secure adding the lag screw. This system should still allow the tree to grow without the wire cutting into the tree.

Fastening the box to the tree. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Fastening the box to the tree. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Once the box was secure, we mounted the porch, and I took the final project picture.

Barred Owl box hung with porch. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Barred Owl box hung with the porch. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

A few words on safety. Building the box is one thing, but mounting it is something else. As I said, the box is very heavy. You have to be strong, and you have to climb high on a ladder. Make sure you have the necessary equipment to safely mount the box, or you really should hire someone to do it.

In just under a week, the box went from wish list to installed. I couldn’t be more pleased! Yes I could; when there are owls in the box and I get my first picture. For now, I’ll live on past glory.

Barred Owl. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Barred Owl. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

Parts List
• 1 4’x8′ sheet of 3/4″ exterior-grade, pressure-treated plywood (buy half a sheet, if you have that option)
• 1 quart of deck stain (project used 3/4 of the quart with 2 coats)
1lb. box of 2″ deck screws (project requires about 1/2 a pound)
8′ of 3/16 vinyl coated wire rope (depends on diameter of tree trunk; try to buy by the foot)
4 3/16″ wire rope thimbles and clamps
2 6″ L brackets
• silicone caulk (seal top to sides)
1 4″ lag bolt (if there is no convenient branch to loop the cable over)

 Tools List
• circular saw
• framing square
• tape measure
• stain brush
• belt sander (to smooth the edges of opening and porch)
• rechargeable drill
• caulk gun
• 1/8″ drill bit to make start holes for deck screws
• 1″ drill bit for vent holes
• 1/4″ drill bit for wire rope holes
• ropes, straps, clamps, and pulley for lifting the box
• ladder

Our out-of-pocket project cost was about $45, but that’s because we already had the plywood and vinyl coated wire. I estimate $90, if you have to buy all of the parts.

Barred Owls live year-round in the eastern half of the United States. Learn what owls are in your area, and seek out nest box plans and mounting instructions for them. For example, Screech Owls have a similar range, but require a much smaller and lighter box. Barn Owls live in most of the continental United States and require a box similar to the Barred Owl box.