I’ve been hearing the owls at night. Those low-pitched “hoots”-five or six in a row, are a great lullaby. In a semi-wild neighborhood where rats have the run of the garden and even invade the engine compartment of cars to make their nests, it is a comforting sound. The species I hear most is the screech owl (Otus asio). And when I hear another one answering from afar, I’m hopeful that they will be setting up their nest soon to raise some more little rat-eaters.
These owls nest in any natural cavity or even abandoned woodpecker holes. They may also be enticed into using a manmade box if the conditions are just right. Find directions and plans for building owl boxes on the Internet. The parents raise their young separately by incubating each egg as it is laid. Nestlings will be of various ages so that the earliest ones have a good chance of survival, but the later ones may be abandoned if food becomes scarce.
On occasion, a barn owl (Tyto alba) can be sighted perching high in a tree through the daytime hours or swooping across the road after dark. They, too, are great hunters of rodents and do much to keep their populations in check. They don’t so much build nests as find a convenient enclosure on which to lay their eggs. The rafters of barns have fostered many generations of barn owls ever since humans began building them. They will also use caves or other sheltered rocks to incubate their eggs and raise their young.
Even if you never see a barn owl, the presence of little bundles of fur and bone on the ground will indicate one of their roosts. They ingest small animals, but regurgitate the inedible parts in neat packages. We lived in a farming region and always had barn owls on our ranch, so I was able to impress my city-slicker school chums by bringing them into class for dissection. Given that the main source of owl nutrition is from mice and rats, it is good practice to not use toxic rodent poisons that could be detrimental to the owls themselves.
• See beautiful orchids; take some home with you for yourself or as a gift; learn about the many types of orchids at the Orchid Society of Santa Barbara’s Annual Orchid Show and sale Saturday-Sunday, November 28-29, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol Rd., 682-4711, sbnature.org).
• Fertilize cymbidiums with a bloom-promoting fertilizer. The middle number of the formulation (representing the element phosphorus) will be larger than the first and third.
• Winter is the time to prune trees that are susceptible to beetle damage, such as pines and eucalyptus. Cover the wood tightly to keep beetles from escaping or chip the wood as you prune.