SILVER LAKE—The Silver Lake Reservoir may soon be getting some new winged residents. Barn owl boxes—homes for the nocturnal bird of prey — are under consideration for installment around the reservoir’s meadow area, as an effort to control the park space’s rodent population. The science is fairly simple here: The owls live and nest in the boxes and then come out to hunt the rodents at night.
For some time, the city has been setting traps around the reservoir’s meadow area but gophers continue to be a problem, according to Silver Lake Neighborhood Council (SLNC) board member Renee Nahum, who co-chairs the Reservoir Complex Committee.
These and other rodents have been ruining the lawn and have begun affecting some of the trees in the area too. Now, as an alternative to possible poison traps, the committee is researching and publicly discussing attracting barn owls to the area to help curb the rodent population.
Nahum said neighbors have already seen barn owls around the area and the reservoir space should be a perfect environment for the barn owls, as they typically nest in high trees with an open field nearby to hunt by night.
“It’s not an uncommon way of taking way of this rodent problem,” she said. “We wanted to make sure [the city] didn’t resort to any poison, either, because that’s not an option.”
Tom Stephen of San Diego has been selling and installing barn owl boxes for about 20 years with his business Air Superiority. The boxes provide shelter and cover to the owls from daytime predators such as crows and hawks, giving the owls a safe space to roost during the day and then nest during the breeding season. He said he’s sure barn owls are already around the reservoir, just probably not breeding there yet.
“Barn owls only need three things to survive, and that’s food, water and cover,” he said. “They get all the water they need from food they eat, which are rodents, which are everywhere, so those two bases are covered. So all we do is provide the nesting habitat for them and the cover, and they go in there and hide from crows and that’s where they live.”
In response to frequently asked questions, Stephen’s answer is consistently no: Barn owls do not attack pets; they do not cause diseases, and there is no necessary maintenance with the boxes.
A pair of owl roosts together in one box, but once chicks are born the male moves out. Stephen said it’s crucial to supply an even number of nests for this reason to ensure the male is safe and can continue to hunt for the family. He said in Southern California, each pair of owls hunts about 2,000 rats, mice and rabbits per year.
The SLNC Reservoir Complex Committee is considering installing four boxes around the reservoir’s meadow area, each would cost at least $150 if purchased from Stephen’s business.
SLNC’s Nahum said there is early support for funding the project from Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office and the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power, which operates the reservoir.
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