Owls are a beautiful species of birds, one of my favourites. Granted, their necks are a bit odd, but that can be forgiven. Each type of owl has its own charm and mysticism. We’re hoping to peek behind the curtain of owls below by finding out all about how they nest. Welcome to MTV Cribs, Owl Edition.
Many species of owls enjoy nesting in buildings, the most well known being the barn owl, of course. Owls do also happily nest in trees and will adopt the nest of another species.
I bet finding a family of owls in your nest is a bitter pill to swallow. Owls are an extremely interesting bird species, and the more you find out about their nesting habits, the more interesting they become.
A lot of owl species like to find a cavity in a tree for their nest. They also use dead snags in trees and will happily nest in human-made boxes and even on platforms and cliffs. Owls like to protect their nests, so they use the environment to their advantage. High up, away from prying eyes, in a cavity of a tree or the corner of a building, keeps their eggs and young safe.
Little Spotted Owlet perched in nest
Owls like to use cavities and comfortable corners of buildings and things to nest in. This means that a lot of the construction of their nests is already done for them. And, owls will use the debris from last years’ nest to protect their eggs.
So, owls nests are made largely from owl poop. Well, compacted layers of owl pellets if you want the fancy answer! But it’s still poop!
Generally speaking, the nesting season for most owls fall between March and August.
Most owl nests are used for generations too, so it is a bit like a holiday home for the owl. They have their main roost close by that they use throughout the year. Then they fly off to their holiday home to have baby owls. Pretty fancy, if you ask me!
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) outside it's nest
Owls do use the same nest year after year. As they don’t really construct their nests, they prefer to use platforms and cavities, either human-made or natural. Their nests can last a very long time. Some owl nests have been used for generations.
Their great-grandad could have eaten a mouse on the same roof beam they are nesting on right now; it brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it!
Most owl species like to have a lot of cover during the day as they only venture out at night and don’t want folk sniffing around their business. So, owls usually choose pine or spruce trees. Evergreen trees offer cover throughout the year, so they like these. This is also why they like buildings, plenty of cover year-round.
Great Horned Owl in nest with two owlets
Most owl species lay white eggs. Rather dull considering that that egg will hatch into one of the most beautiful bird species in the world. They range in size depending on the owl species, but none are much bigger than a chicken egg.
Owl eggs are not that big.
On average, owl eggs are about 1.5-1.7 inches long and about 1.2 inches wide.
The white eggs of a Long-eared Owl
There are some owls that hunt during the day. However, most owls just sleep during the day. Most return to their roost after a long night of hunting, complain to their neighbour about working so much overtime, and then crawl into bed.
Owls do use nest boxes, and there are nesting boxes designed for different types of owls. Barn owls, for example, love a flat, spacious surface, so their boxes are built accordingly. Other owls like to have a cavity like you’d find in a tree, and these can be made too.
A large wooden nest box, used to attract owls
Which came first, the barn or the owl?
Barn owls really enjoy nesting in empty buildings. You can often see them in church towers, for example. They do nest in barns, though. They also quite like nesting in trees, on cliffs, in mines and quarries.
For more information on barn owl nesting behaviour, check out this article.
Close up portrait of a Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Great horned owls enjoy nesting in pine, beech, juniper and cottonwood trees. They do also nest in cavities of trees and can be found nesting in buildings too.
They will usually take over a nest that was built for them by a very kind bird that still needed it.
Long-eared owls almost exclusively use conifer trees for nesting. They are very private during the nesting session, and it is very difficult to get a glimpse of them. They will often take over the nest of another bird. They will also use cavities in the tree and artificial nesting baskets too.
Long-eared Owl in nest with owlet
Snowy owls are one of the only types of owl that actually put any effort into building their nests. They nest on the ground. Usually on an elevated rise or mound, so they can keep an eye out for predators. They do still use other birds nests as their own, just like other owls do. However, they do at least line their nests with feathers and vegetation and not just years of compressed owl pellets.
The main nesting season for owls is March-August. They may lay eggs between the end of January and early March. During the nesting season, though, owls are extremely private, so you probably won’t see them. And, as much as we all want to see fluffy little owls, it’s best to leave them to their own devices. The parents are very territorial at this time of year.
Barred Owl with chick in their nest
Owls do have nests, but not like other birds. Most owls will use a hole in a tree, the rafters in a barn or quiet building, or another bird’s nest. Owls are lazy when it comes to nests and building them.
Maybe they should get an early day, and build it themselves and stop stealing other birds houses!
Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.
Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox