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Barn owls return to Sanibel

By Staff | Nov 15, 2017

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Living with Wildlife Educator Dee Serage-Century stands with the new Barn Owl Box Company box located at the Bailey Homestead Preserve. MEGHAN MCCOY

An excitement has grown again on the island after owl pellets were found last winter behind the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Nature Center.

“I found one peeking around at the Nature Center,” Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Living with Wildlife Educator Dee Serage-Century said of a barn owl captured on a wildlife camera. “To have one come back flips my switch.”

Last spring on a really foggy morning, she was walking down Shipley Trail with others at the Bailey Homestead Preserve when a barn owl was spotted flying and landing in a sea grape.

This was exciting because they have not been present since 2005.

In 1984, SCCF citizen scientists brought the barn owl back to the island by installing nesting boxes, a necessity after barns and island agriculture disappeared years prior. The owls nested at the SCCF Nature Center for 25 years.

Barn owls are cavity nesters, often times using holes left behind by pileated woodpeckers. She said the pileated woodpeckers use the nest before abandoning it the following nesting season.

“They leave holes for other nesting birds,” Serage-Century said.

A new nesting box from the Barn Owl Box Company has been installed at the Bailey Homestead Preserve due to one choosing the pavilion located on the property. Serage-Century said she tested the nesting box in the heat of the summer to make sure the inside was not too warm.

“It’s almost 10 degrees cooler,” she said, adding that there is a separate box inside.

There is mulch at the bottom of the box inside for the owls. There’s also holes in the box offering drainage when it rains. The front has a little archway, again protecting the inside from water saturation, as well as a perch for the owls. If there is a successful nest, Serage-Century can view inside of the box through a viewing window in the rear of the box.

She is excited to see if there really is a nesting pair of barn owls on the island and if they use the box, as it is the beginning of their nesting season.

With the barn owls hopefully making a return to the island, she is on a mission of educating the community of the harms of rat poisons, which can weaken, or kill, owls, eagles, hawks, bobcats and even coyotes who eat a lot of rats.

The message is simple – seal all rat entry points to a home, attic and garage; use mechanical rat traps, electronic or snap traps; tell pest control companies to stop using poisons, or tell the pest control company not to use brodifacoum, bromaiolone, difenacoum, or difethialone.

The four names of rat poisons can no longer be purchased by homeowners, but those poisons can still be used by professional pest control companies.

“I’m hoping to affect the industry by having their customers telling them to do it a different way,” she said.

“You can no longer go to Home Depot and buy the worst of the worst,” Serage-Century said.

She said SCCF does not use any poisons at all. Serage-Century said it’s all about finding the entry points of where rats can come indoors and blocking them.

When rat poisons are used, the animals that feed on them are then affected when consumed.

She said a family of barn owls can eat thousands of rats a year. Due to this, many individuals who have sugarcane fields and orange groves install barn owl nesting boxes to control their rat population.

A pamphlet has been created, “Help SCCF Bring Back the Barn Owls.” Serage-Century said her hope is to distribute it to homeowners, especially in the Beachview and Dunes area to cover the end of the island where the barn owls have been spotted.

For those who would like copies of the brochure, call Serage-Century at (239) 472-2329, or email dserage@sccf.org.

At the end of season, SCCF will have a new exhibit at the Nature Center regarding barn owls with a focus on the harms of rat poison.