Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is there a link between extensive use of owl boxes and endangered status of Barn Owls?

As I've been looking into this issue more, the more I've started to see a trend. First, I had no idea how extensive the use of Barn Owl boxes really was, but it's extreme. Add to that the loss of traditional wood barns with plenty of ventilation holes in the hay loft, and lots of beams and a big hayloft within which to hop and learn to fly, and the additional loss of hollow trees nationwide, and you have a population of owls that has become highly dependent upon the use of inadequate owl boxes.

They are heavily used in farmlands, orchards, grapevine areas, many of which either have no trees at all, or the trees (in the case of orchards) are too far away from the boxes or too flimsy to be of any good whatsoever to baby owls that need to branch, then fledge.

The owlbox situation has been viewed as successful only because it is viewed entirely from the human perspective.
If you ask the farmer, "How are the owl boxes working out for you?", he's more htan likely to say, "Oh, it couldn't be better!" And he's right - for HIM it's great! The owls made a nest, had babies, and hunted like crazy, keeping the promise of rodent control. Then, when the babies went to try to branch and fledge, they fell from the box and were killed by predators or died slowly on their own, but that's of no concern to the farmer, who probably does't even know it happened.

Then the parents lay more eggs, have more babies, and continue to hunt like crazy, keeping the rodent population in check. Sometimes the parents go on like this for as long as a decade and the farmer is thrilled with the efficacy of the owl box.

In some areas, owls use boxes for 70% of all nests. Seventy percent!

If owls are using boxes on poles that much for their reproduction, then we could be losing he majority of the next generation. And, suddenly we have an endangered owl where we once had many of them. If your next generation has almost no chance of survival.

There may just be a direct link between the extensive use of "box on a pole" owl boxes, and places where the owls are becoming endangered. These owl boxes might just be the main factor contributing to endangerment of Barn Owls, and it wa there all along, right in front of our faces, and we just didn't havethe knowledge about how there is no way for the owlets to branch, then fledge, so there's been dirth of barn owl surviveability,

What to you want to bet that these owlboxes are directly related to the way these owls are disappearing in some areas?
I think the boxes might be a main reason for the endangered status of barn owls. I bet a study of this issue would be mind blowing! PhD candidates and post docs, take note! This could be a good study to take on.


-Stacey

28 comments:

Lori said...

The designer and installer of the Molly and Magee and Owlivia and Owliver owl boxes was on the Molly chat site last night. His name was Tom. I attempted to ask him questions about his boxes, and asked him if, "With all that we've learned, would he change anything about his boxes." His response, "Why would I change anything?" I asked him about advising customers on placement. Would he advise placement in more shady areas, or areas with more bushes and trees to assist with fledging/branching. His response was basically that the fledging process should be difficult for the owlettes, that it's part of the natural process.

After asking a few questions, and trying to ask more, the mods began removing my comments. The general group consensus was that I was trying to start an argument. Only one other person on the site questioned the guy or his motives. I was disappointed in, and frustrated with a very large group of people that claim to love the owls. It was our first opportunity to question the owl box designer, and it was squashed by the mods. It could have been a huge learning opportunity. No one wanted to hear it.

The guy claims to have installed 72,000 owl boxes. Why shouldn't we, as owl lovers, have questioned him and been able to voice our opinions/thoughts? How can we positively affect the future of owls when one major site/forum that could be a part of major change will not allow discussion on subjects openly? If Tom has placed 72,000 owl boxes, what better place to start with voicing opinions/thoughts. Obviously Carlos has made modifications/ additions to the original design/ set up, even after he was initially adamant that he would not tamper with nature and the natural process, so he must have opionions/thoughts about the original set up. Interesting that Carlos has not had Tom on for an interview/discussion about the owl boxes since so many people are interested in possibly setting up owl boxes as a result of the Molly experience.

If Tom is the guy that's going to be involved with all of the owl boxes in the San Marcos habitat project, I wasn't impressed with his attitude or his thoughts.

As for the response of the mods to my questions, and removal my comments. Well, I consider myself to be in good company (you Stacey). I was respectful, but passionate, and I asked questions, made comments that I felt needed to be asked/made. I can live with myself, knowing that I attempted to be an advocate for the owls. That's what it's all about to me.

Vee

Stacey O'Brien said...

Wow, Vee!
It's so upsetting when someone is in the business of owl boxes purely for profit. Neither of these guys seems to care enough about the owls themselves to be willing to consult w/ wildlife experts, who are standing by wringing their hands, so, soo soo willing to help. No, they don't care. They honestly don't care what happens to the babies.

The whole thing is for profit an profit only. It's advertised as "rodent control", and of course, it works to control rodents, but does nothing to preserve the line of barn owls through generations.

These owl boxes have absolutly nothing to do with nature. in NATURE, there's a hollow tree. It's in the shade, there are branches to hop to from the entrance, the entrance is usually pretty high up from the bottom of the hollow part, and the babies can climb right up the trunk into the entrance by hooking their talons into the bark and flapping their wings.

Nothing about these owlboxes is in any way similar to a tree trunk.

Baby owls are clumsy. Yes they can be smart, but when something is so different from nature, they just can't overcome it.

-Stacey

chipmonk said...

Stacey,loved your blog as always,I am a member of the owl alliance,and very serious about what we are trying to do.Lori I was in the chat room last night at M&Ms,i saw you asking Tom your questions,which i thought were very nicely asked.I saw his reponce,wasn't surprised.And then the mods removing your comments.we all know how they treat people who love and follow Stacey.
I for one will continue to watch the owlets to see how they do,like Stacey suggested.As far as anything else in that room..its all about money,period.Its so sad to me that Carlos could make such a difference right now and chooses not too.I wish we all had that power right now.
As for me,all my effort is to Staceys Barn Owl alliance to try and get-er done.Stacey stay well we need you and love you!
member name is Maureen

Janet said...

Lori Im in the Owl chat alot and I can just see this whole senario playing in front of my eyes as I type. How very sad when every opportunity arises its removed. Carlos is in the VERY drivers seat. I believe he really does care yet Im sure hes aware of theses Qs being squashed. Its supposed to "be fun" yes but why cant this be used to educate people too? What a difference he can make! It just BLOWS me away. It hurts Stacey to read and realise what youve written about a whole next generation being wiped out. Surely Tom has heard these concerns. You cant build these boxes and not be told, approched and informed. I just cant for the life of me understand why when educated and very real concerns are addressed they are silenced. Carlos has put another perch, but as Stacey states they are clumsy these guys when first learning to fly. I am not a professional in this field but all anyone has to do is go to Utube and watch them branching and fledging to see the obvious. Maybe some well written letters explaining the concern with the boxes and how he can make the difference can be addressed? The whole thing is really upsetting and deeply frustrating to me. WHY oh why did he BAN you is beyond anything I can EVER understand!!!

季洪雅 said...

在莫非定律中有項笨蛋定律:「一個組織中的笨蛋,恆大於等於三分之二。」...............................................................

HeyNicePlanet said...

We do really need some good data on this question - "Is there a link between extensive use of owl boxes and endangered status of Barn Owls?". Are the owls better off - or not - with pole-mounted owlboxes, even with a high owlet mortality rate? How can pole mounted owlboxes be made safer for owlets, but still easy and cheap enough to build and install - so that folks will keep putting them up and using them. Would fewer pole-mounted owlboxes be better for the overall Owl population? Or not? I hope that all the interest in Owls that Molly's Owlbox has engendered will help encourage people in this kind of research. In addition, are there any journals or organizations that we should be aware of where such research might be published?
Thanks Stacey.

cissycz said...

I was on the chat the other night also when Tom Stephan was there. He made some really shocking statements about how owls are wild and life is hard and went on about not coddling them. I wish I had copied and saved the one statement that was the worst, but was dumbfounded and didn't think fast enough.
He says he has installed 27,000 boxes (I thought that number was bad enough, but at least it wasn't actually 72,000!)

There is more I would like to say, but will refrain.

He did comment that he hadn't been on the chat for awhile and that the atmosphere had changed. That means we questioned him. It is considered to be attacking. Very sad.

cricket said...

I would think Tom would capitalize on the new information we have learned about branching/fledging by selling boxes that promote more babies staying alive. What reasonable person wouldn't choose a box that will keep baby owlets from dying? Bird lovers and farmers both want that. Where is our choice? Is there anyone outside of UK selling and installing a safer box?

Lori, I'm shocked at the answer you got that the fledging process should be difficult. Maybe because if 72K people found out he admitted his design was bad they would demand a refund!

cissycz said...

Tom Stephan stated he has installed 27,000 boxes.
Not 72,000
Easy to transpose numbers, but since we're discussing his statements, I think it's important to be accurate.

Janet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janet said...

(Removed due to typo error..plz forgive..)

NOT coddling them??? IS he kidding?? What a Joke. He cannot learn from the original design where they nest? Awww well you know God coddled them when He gave them Instinct and or preordained knowledge to know to be IN a tree with branches! And whats wrong with doing whats Best for the owls? Do these people ever think? How sad wow I get really wound up angered....

MAY 13, 2010 10:00 PM

poster said...

Tom the owl box maker said 72,000 boxes installed? Well isn't that something. Two weeks ago he was in Owlivia and Owliver's chatroom and boasted he'd installed 126,000. Some people ate that number up like they were being spoonfed. I guess the man can say or do anything when he has a gullible audience.

I also asked him about placing these boxes on slick poles the owlets cannot possibly get back up into and received the same reply -- it's nature's way.

If it were legal to do so, I wouldn't mind punching him in the face.

Susan said...

I don't understand the box builders's thinking. According to his website, he has captively bred endangered falcons and hawks. I personally witnessed him in chat one night trying to engage others in supporting his efforts to help a particular type of hawk (can't remember which one). It is bizarre to me that he would have such concern for one bird of prey but seeming disregard for another.

Oh wait, maybe he was hoping for monetary support...

Susan from MI

HeyNicePlanet said...

I'm concerned that some of the ideas for making pole-mounted owl boxes more fledge/branch friendly might however increase the danger of owlet predation. If the owlet can climb up the pole, or get back into the box easily from a nearby branch, predators might well be able to do the same. Should branching aids be added close to branching time - so predators can't use them when the owlets are small - or is disturbing the nest area worse than the risk of predation? If a mother owl fears predation, might she stay at the nest more, but thereby sacrifice the additional food she could have caught for her owlets?

My hope is that any new owlbox design(s) would go through testing with video cameras - and compared with older designs, so the various risks could be measured. And different designs may work in different areas - depending on typical predators and other environmental issues such as weather. A big question is how can such testing be set up and funded?

catbirdcan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lori said...

Sorry if I got the number wrong. I was pretty sure he said 72,000 boxes. I purposely didn't try to quote some of his other responses because I also didn't think quickly enough to copy them, and I didn't want to misquote or pass on inaccurate information.

Vee

catbirdcan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacey O'Brien said...

A literal translation of the Chinese comment:

Has the item of fool law in not the non-law: “in an organization's fool, is bigger than permanently is equal to 2/3.

I think he might be saying that there is foolishness in not having a law and fools will follow the lack of law, or that they'll be lawless. And that in any organization, the effectiveness of a fool affects about 2/3 of that organizations ability to get 'er done. That the foolishness of even one fool takes up 2/3 of the time of that organization. I'm no expert in Chinese but Im guessing. Anyone else who can translate this better?

Wesley the Owl is doing well in China, in Chinese, which is why we have Chinese guests on the blog. We welcome you!

-Stacey

Stacey O'Brien said...

I think the question of predation is not an issue. If we are trying to make it as close to a natural situation, which is the hollow tree, then predation is a NATURAL problem to have.

The number of owlets who fall to their deaths and are not able to fledge and go on to reproduce themselves is massive, compared to the small number of owlets who would be found and killed by predators. What we're trying to do is imitate nature so that they can branch and fledge, not prevent every possible scenario that they WOULD face in nature.

Better to have a way to climb up than to have no way, and for them to have to just sit on the ground to wait for a predator to find them. The more the owllets can climb up and move into their box when they feel exposed, the more likely they'll be able to avoid predators.

Lying on the ground w/ a broken wing, or even being down but unable to climb up all but guarantees death by predator.

The way to keep predators from discovering the owlets has more to do with not putting the human scent all over everything, which might cause a predator to climb up out of curiosity.

All this to say, we are not trying to prevent actual acts of nature, but we are trying to prevent unnatural and all but guaranteed death caused by these careless setups for babies.

-Stacey

Stacey O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacey O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacey O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacey O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacey O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cybee said...

Yes, these owl box makers/sellers will not worry about owl safety until it is regulated and also enforced (and distinguishing owlet death due to box design/structure defect as opposed to natural events). Until then, money talks. See how money ruled in our oil industry and now see the disaster in the gulf.
A mod answered the question regarding owls falling down and not being able to climb back up with stating that there is a tree nearby and some platforms...hmm....

poster said...

Soon enough these four will tumble below and if the cam view isn't changed, nobody will see what is happening. The damage control when the masses go into hysterics will be interesting to watch. We may even hear "They're doing fine" or "they flew off to start their own happy family" but those who have become educated will know owlets on the ground without protection or a way to climb back to their box will surely die.

This will be one instance where "I told you so" will not be filled with smugness but extreme sadness.

msg said...

Today's San Diego Union-Tribune did a piece of M&M & the Royals. Of note is this bit:

Maybe the owlets will fly a bit after first leaving home, but it’s more likely that they’ll just flutter to the ground or to nearby perches for more practice. Those prospects are not without their perils, but San Diego’s Project Wildlife is keeping tabs on developments.

“We’ve been in contact with Carlos and have been offering guidance,” said Kristen Pressler, development director at the rehabilitation and rescue organization. “We’ve actually notified our raptor team. They are on alert to step in if anything happens.”

Pressler said the 15-foot drop from the box is not an issue and that the owls are probably safer in the Royal’s backyard than in the wild. “They are going to be just fine,” she said.

Read the full article here.

MARY said...
This comment has been removed by the author.