Amazing as they are, owls have been perceived as the purveyors of evil and associated with witches and sorcerers over the years. Owls have been captured and used in traditional medicine to aid with wisdom and hunting skills. Many people in the rural areas of South Africa put spikes on the roofs of their houses in an attempt to keep the owls from landing there.
In reality, the owl is actually a gentle nocturnal bird that plays a very necessary role in our environment. Whether in the bush or in the urban areas, owls offer a great service to humans by eating mice, rats, cockroaches and other pest insects. Humans are much too eager to bring out the pesticides and rodenticides to rid the world of these pests and this action is having a devastating effect on the owl populations. In urban areas owls are often found dead as a result of these poisons. Owl are also often killed at night on our roads too as they sweep down to catch prey.
Some owl species, like the Spotted Eagle-Owl and the Barn owl, have adapted to the urban lifestyle and have made their homes in buildings. Unfortunately the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and The White-Faced Owl have not adjusted to well to the urban environment. Owls need the open areas in order to swoop down on their prey and this is made more difficult when their hunt in urban areas. It has been noted that some owls have taken to sitting on dustbins in urban areas where they catch mice and rats that invade the dustbins at night.
There are 12 different owl species found in Southern African and most of those are found in the Kruger National Park. Since owls are nocturnal and roost high in trees during the day it is not common to see these birds while visiting the Kruger National Park on a day trip. Their colouring generally makes them well camouflaged in the trees.
To encourage owls back into our lives it is a good idea to imitate their natural roosting places, which is holes in old dead trees, by putting up owl boxes that can be purchased in most gardening shops. Lucky for us, owls are not that fussy about where they nest, but it is important to keep in mind that they do prefer large trees that offer shade close to the nest where they can rest during the day. It’s also best to put the owl box in a quiet secluded area of your garden.
Once you have the owl box up, you will need patience as owls can take up to five years before they occupy the box. You will also have to maintain the owl box. Owls are concerned about the rain, so pay attention to which direction your rain normally comes from and face the opening of the owl box in the opposite direction.
With luck, in a couple of months you will have to please of an owl in your garden. The most common owls to make use of owl boxes are Barn Owls, Spotted Eagle Owls, African Wood Owls, Pearl-Spotted Owls and African Scrops Owls. The Barn Owls and Spotted Eagle Owls are the most probable owls to find in your owls boxes as they are known to live in close proximity to humans.