Hoot 'n Annie

About five years ago, The Nature Conservancy’s staff attorney Cathy Howell decided she needed a new project. This nature enthusiast and amateur woodworker wanted to get her hands dirty—and do something to benefit nature.

“I read an article in the Austin American-Statesman about Cliff & Julie Shackelford, who are well known in Texas conservation circles, and the owl boxes they were building,” Cathy said. “That got me curious and I decided to build my own.”

Measuring 17 inches high, 8 inches wide and 8 inches deep, with a 3-inch entry hole, that first owl box took only a couple of hours. Soon after, Cathy began building more and gifting them to members of her family.

“I built seven—one for each of my six siblings and one for my mom. My dad had just passed away suddenly, and he was a woodworking hobbyist. So as a bit of a tribute to him, I built them for the family.”

Just six months later, the first screech owl visited Cathy’s owl box; not long after, Cathy was delighted to discover a little surprise—owlets! Once the owls, dubbed Hoot and Annie, began to tend to their family, Cathy became increasingly curious about the inner-workings of the Eastern screech owl household (who isn’t?). So in 2009 she installed a camera.

Since then, Hoot and Annie have been perennial residents of the backyard box. Over the years, the duo has nurtured 21 babies, and thousands of viewers have watched those owlets mature and fledge. And with more than a half-dozen owl boxes under her belt, Cathy has a few pieces of advice for novice builders.

  • Don’t paint the inside of your owl box – the owlets will peck at the walls and you don’t want them ingesting the paint.
  • In mounting the box, steer clear from using nails or wire, as those can damage the tree. A good alternative are D-ring mounting brackets: use them on the back of the box, attach bungee cords and wrap them around the tree.
  • Hang the box 12 to 20 feet above the ground with a direct flight path to the entrance hole. Put an inch or so of dried leaves in the box as nesting material…and don’t worry if squirrels occupy the box first!
  • Watch out for bees – they like the boxes too, and will use it for their hive if they can.
  • Install a water source (such as a bird bath) nearby and keep water in it—the owls will thank you.



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