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Barn Owls in Berkeley? Learn How to Keep Them Here By JOE EATON Special to the Planet

Friday January 20, 2006

Barn owls are more common in urban areas, including Berkeley, than you might think. Most of the time they’re just ghostly apparitions in the night. But on Jan. 28, you can meet one of these nocturnal hunters face to face at a fundraiser for the Hungry Owl Project (HOP), sponsored by Keep Barn Owls in Berkeley, a recently launched owl-advocacy group. 

Jane Goodall has described the Marin-based HOP as “a much needed and very important initiative” for the protection of these birds, which are in trouble in many parts of their almost world-wide range.  

The “Afternoon with Owls” event, from 2-4 p.m. on Regal Road in Berkeley, will feature presentations by volunteers with the HOP and Napa County’s Habitat for Hooters, a video of life inside a barn owl nest, and other exhibits. The main attraction, though, will be the visiting owl—a bird with a remarkable presence.  

For those who want to encourage barn owls in their own neighborhoods, nest boxes will be available for sale at the event. Traditionally cavity nesters, the owls will readily accept nest boxes—much safer places to raise a brood than the palm trees they often use. HOP has already installed over 100 boxes at private homes, farms, ranches, and vineyards. Owls that use the boxes are being banded for ongoing research in collaboration with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of their behavior: how long they live, how far they travel. 

And why would you want to attract owls? 

“They’re not that wise,” says Dennis Christiansen, a Fresno teacher who uses barn owls in a classroom program. “But they’re the best at what they do.” 

These birds are consummate rodent-killers. In California, rodents and other small mammals make up 95-99 percent of a barn owl’s diet. In rural areas this would be mostly voles and gophers; in cities, house mice and rats. One study found that a brood of six owlets consumed 600 field mice in 10 weeks. 

A single owlet can eat its weight in mice every night; a captive accounted for 13 at one sitting. Vineyard managers particularly appreciate their taste for gophers. San Bernabe Vineyard in Monterey County, home of the Night Owl label, has over 70 owl boxes in its operation. 


Admission to the “Afternoon with Owls” is $25 per person, and space is limited. For more information, contact Lisa Owens at 549-2963; for owl background, visit Keep Barn Owls in Berkeley’s web site, www.kboib.com. 


Photo by Deane P. Lewis  

A single owlet can eat its weight in mice every night.