Our owlets

by cheri sabraw

I called Irv the other day.

Irv, we are being overrun with rodents! I know I was the Pied Piper of Mission San Jose High School, but the rats, mice, vols, and gophers have taken my reputation to a new high!

Irv, also known affectionately as the Bird Man of Sunol, constructed and installed our owl box four years ago. In return for his Four Seasons of owl boxes, Irv requested a good bottle of zinfandel, one that  sold at least for $10.00.

Regular readers of this blog know that after three years of vacant housing, a delightful barn owl family inhabited the box in March of this year. Needless to say, few rats or mice are carrying on across the creek. Templeton and Ratatouille! Leave town.

On our side of the creek, a different story–one of Camus’ The Plague (without the plague)– is unfolding.

We have been Rat Zapping (aka electrocuting) rats the size of  small loaves of bread in our attic, Dinah’s dog run, wood piles, our pump house and the upper garage. While trying to run his legal business, my husband is also serving as pest control agent. The animal control company that finally herded our bats off the property last year is booked up for weeks.

Ive called back.

Cheri, you are in luck. I made a perfect box for the Superintendent of the Sunol Regional Park and he refused it, so it is YOURS. When can I come up to inspect the old box, clean it out, and straighten it up? Irv generously offered on the telephone.


The new box, not yet erected.

Gosh, Irv. Come as soon as you can. We need a new box in our lower meadow ASAP. But I do not know if the owls across the creek are out of their box.

Irv assured me they had probably left this late in the season.


Unpacking the new box.


Straightening the old box. Little did they know it was inhabited.

Irv and Hizzoner pulled and pushed to straighten the owl box.

P1090361Then, they lowered it. Irv planned to install a pulley system and clean out the box. He can tell how many owl “clutches” have been using the box based on the depth of the owl poop.

As you can see, Irv is opening the trap door, ready to clean out the flooring.


Oh God, Irv mutters.

P1090368Hizzoner cradles one egg, two 2-day old owlets,and an egg whose inhabitant is trying to emerge.

I stifle any of my concerns and just keep photographing.

But then the BIG surprise. Out of the box flew the mother barn owl–out into the bright daylight and into the dark wood. It all happened too quickly for me to snap a picture.

P1090364Hizzoner cradles his new Grand Owlet in hopes that Irv would quickly install the new gadget.

P1090395Irv and Hizzoner stop for a little refreshment brought to the site by the photographer, still stressing about the little ones without their mother.

P1090415The new gizmo finally on, Irv demonstrates how it works. No more articulating arm to lower and raise the owl boxes.

Cheri, do you want a green or yellow PVC handle? Irv asks.

Green, Irv.

And yet, I fretted about the three babies and an egg most of the afternoon.

Would their mother come back after all the ruckus to her house? All the noise, the talk, the scrapping and drilling?

Irv figured that the last clutch was made up of five chicks and this one, four.

Cheri, thanks to you and your husband’s insistence on an owl box, the world has nine  more barn owls. Take joy in that accomplishment.

My joy was complete when, after sitting in the darkening olive orchard later in the evening, waiting for owls to emerge from the forest, we were heartened to hear and see at least five owls circling the orchard, clicking and calling in a sound other-worldly. Almost like radar.

And then, by the light of the moon, the mother flew to her box.



About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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16 Responses to Our owlets

  1. Brig says:

    Cheri, what good news. I would have wondered if the mother barn owl would come back, too. Glad to hear that she did. Irv sounds like quite the character!

    • Cheri says:

      Yes he is and such a wonderful man. At 78 years old, he still monitors 22 owl boxes and hundreds of bluebird boxes. We are lucky to know him.

  2. Such happy news. Congratulations on your Godparenthood! What a joy. I can only imagine how excited you must be.

  3. Cheri says:

    Thank you Dan! Irv tells me they will fledge in 10 weeks, so we will have owls on the Rancho until late October. I hope to update this story. I hope you and yours are fine down in the desert.

  4. shoreacres says:

    Oh, thank goodness. As soon as I saw those babies, my own anxiety level went up a few notches. I’m so glad they have a nice, clean abode to grow up in, and that mama came back. She’s probably happy enough for the upgrade to the place, too.

    It’s really something, to have that up close and personal record of the owlets hatching. My goodness. I’ll be looking forward to the update, and hoping that your rodent population suffers at the talons of the owls. What a wonderful place you live in — I’d hardly get anything done there for just looking around.

    • Cheri says:

      So glad mama came back. Last night, I was trying to watch the Perseid Meteor shower (no view, the Bay fog was in) but I could see the barns owls flying over the meadows. Good feeling! Next year, I think I will take Glenys’ advice and buy an owl cam. Wouldn’t that be cool?

      • shoreacres says:

        It would be cool beyond words. And we all could obsess over your owls for hours at a time. There’s something about those cams that really is compelling.

        • Cheri says:

          And when the new box goes in next week (in the meadow below our house), we would have two from which to choose. Although, I am not sure about our bandwidth which is a huge issue for us rural users. And…if you are driving around our “neck of the woods” come on up, ya’all.

  5. Glenys says:

    How exciting to have finally had success – and twice!

    Why not get Irv to install CCTV? My daughter has this and can watch everything over the internet.

    • Cheri says:

      I love this idea, Glenys. Should we do this, I will name the system after you! Although, after the experience last weekend, I have seen an owlet up close and pink!

  6. wkkortas says:

    This is a heartwarming and utterly charming post, and I laughed at the rats ” the size of small loaves of bread”, which I suppose is much less of a chuckle when they’re on your doorstep.

  7. Chris says:

    This was fascinating. So glad the mommy owl came back. Such tiny babies. Do you know how fast they grow or when they will emerge from the box? What fun that will be to watch! I know you will keep us posted.

  8. Cheri says:

    They will be out of the nest and fledged in 8 weeks, I think. We really can’t watch what is happening since NOTHING happens until it is dark. We do hear that clicking and some barn owls sounds, but unless I get “night vision goggles, ” I will be content to know that our owlets are comfortable in their house.

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