Attract Screech Owls to your yard with nest box

Western Screech Owl by Shravans14

Last Updated on January 6, 2024 by Greg Gillson

You feed small songbirds and put up nest boxes to attract them. Why not do the same for owls?

Your yard probably already has the worms, frogs, mice, rats, gophers, and rabbits that owls eat.

Owls eat a lot of rodents! Cute and beneficial–who could ask for more!

If you install an owl nesting box you can likely attract owls to your backyard. 

The easiest owl in the U.S. to attract to your yard with a nest box is the Screech Owl. 

In recent years scientists discovered that there are actually 2 species of owls in North America formerly considered one. We now have Eastern Screech-Owls (Megascops asio) and Western Screech-Owls (Megascops kennicottii). These go along with another screech owl in the United States, the Whiskered Screech-Owl (Megascops trichopsis) found mostly in Mexico, but barely reaches into SE Arizona and SW New Mexico.

Nearly wherever you live in the United States, then, (except for parts of central Wyoming, northern Michigan, northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont) you can attract Screech Owls to your backyard.

Photo of Eastern Screech-Owl on branch
Eastern Screech-Owl
Image by Irene K-s from Pixabay

What makes your yard attractive to owls?

Owls need food, water, shelter, and a place to nest.

Your yard provides the food. It doesn’t take much “wild” space to attract owls. They can find food in the leaf litter under larger trees, or in the trees themselves. They can find food in taller grass in a vacant lot or field next door. There are almost always mice and rats in our yards that we never know about.

Put your outdoor lights on timers to turn off late at night. Owls like it darker.

You can provide a bird bath for owls. You’ll probably never know, though, that they’ve been there for a dip in the night.

Dense trees and gnarled larger trees make the best spots for owls to roost and sleep during the day.
Trees with cavities in them provide a nesting place. But you can provide an owl box for nesting, too.

Photo of Western Screech-Owl roosting in a cedar tree
Western Screech-Owl roosting in a cedar
Photo by Greg Gillson

Screech Owl nests in nature

Screech Owls nest in cavities.

Frequently, cavities excavated by woodpeckers serve as nests for Screech Owls. 

Larger woodpeckers that provide nest holes for Screech Owls include Acorn Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers but, especially, Northern Flickers. Do you have any of these woodpeckers in your neighborhood? Then you may already have Screech Owls visiting your yard!

Natural cavities can form in trees due to rot or broken off branches. Oak trees, maple trees, cottonwoods, and old orchard fruit trees tend to form such suitable hollow limbs or trunks.

Rarely, Screech Owls nest in cut banks or cliffs.

The male Screech Owl scouts out and finds possible nest sites. He will lead his mate there. Often he provides her food to show he is a good provider. Finally, the female selects the best nest site. They may return for several years to the same nest site. They may roost in the nest throughout the year.

The owls don’t add any material to the cavity for the nest. 

On average, good nesting cavities are about 1 to 1.5 feet deep. The entrance hole is usually just large enough to get in. If it is too much larger other predators (raccoons, larger owls) can get in.

Screech Owls begin courtship as early as January in southern areas with nesting and eggs as early as February

In more northerly areas birds sitting on eggs can be as late as July.

Screech Owls lay 2-8 (usually 4-5) eggs. Incubation lasts about 26-34 days until the eggs hatch. 

Juveniles usually first fledge and leave the nest about 28 days after hatching.

Parents will feed the young outside the nest for 8 to 10 weeks. The young may return to the nest cavity to roost at night during this time.

The Screech Owl nest box

Screech Owls will readily use artificial owl birdhouses. You can build your own as a DIY project. If you purchase or make a box, make sure it is close to the following dimensions.

The box should be made from untreated and unpainted wood. Pine or cedar makes a good choice. A thickness of 3/4 inches provides durability and insulation.

Screech Owl nest box dimensions

The box dimensions are as follows. The floor should be about 10×12 inches. The height of the box should be 14 inches. The entrance hole should be 3 inches in diameter, centered 9 inches from the floor.

The roof should overhang slightly and slope down in front so rain water doesn’t drip into the nest. Recessing the floor up inside a bit should keep water from seeping in. Be sure their are drain holes at the corners of the floor.

Do not add a perch, as perches make it easier for predators to reach the eggs or young. Instead, make the entrance hole with double-thick wood to keep potential predators from being able to reach inside.

One side of the nest box should be hinged for cleaning after the nesting season is over. The boxes should last 2-3 seasons before they need replaced.

Cut grooves or attach small strips of wood inside the box below the entrance hole. This allows the owls to get out of the owl box more easily.

Whether you make your own owl nest box or purchase one, look for these dimensions.

Screech Owl nest box dimension overview

  • Floor 10×12 inches
  • Height 14 inches
  • Entrance 3 inches in diameter, 9 inches up from floor
  • Box height 10-30 feet above ground

Add 2 to 3 inches of wood shavings in the bottom of the box. After each nesting season replace the wood shavings putting in the box 2-3 inches of fresh shavings.

Here is one that has the correct dimensions and good reviews (includes hinged sides and wood shavings). (You will still need to figure out for yourself how to mount it.)

  Rufous Eastern Screech Owl by Greg                                Hume

Screech Owl nest box placement

Nest boxes for Screech Owls should be placed 10 to 30 feet above the ground. Do not place multiple Screech Owl boxes closer than 100 to 1000 feet apart (I have seen both distances referenced). 

Screech Owls are territorial. They will chase away other owls in this 1000 foot radius. On the other hand, having an alternative nest box for the pair allows the owls to choose their preferred nest site. It also give them a second place to nest if the first attempt fails. Or it gives a place for other birds to nest.

Ideally, the entrance hole should face southeast. Face the front of the owl box in a direction ranging from east to south. Screech Owls love to sit in the entrance hole and warm by the rising sun. Avoid placing the nest entrance facing between north and west.

Owls are rather messy around their nest site. So choose a location where white wash (owl poo) will not be a problem. You may also observe owl pellets (regurgitated bones and hair) under favorite perches.

When should you put up an owl box? Owls may roost in the box any time of year. But for nesting in the next season put up the box in the fall before the male owl begins scouting for possible nest sites in winter.

If you place the nest box in a tree, consider placing the box under a branch. Young owls climb out of the nest box onto the top of the box and flap-hop out on nearby branches. The owls don’t like any branches blocking the entrance hole, though.

You may place a nest box on the east or south side of a barn or other tall out building. Hang the box under the eaves to protect from rain, but also so that predators can’t jump down from the roof.

Using a pole mounted nest box will work too. A pole may be best to keep out squirrels which may climb trees to take over the owl box. Use a baffle on the pole to keep squirrels from climbing up. Place the pole 10 feet from a tree or structure where the squirrel could jump across to the box.

Owls do like a staging perch placed about 12 feet from the nest entrance and about 6 feet off the ground. A shepherd’s hook works well for this. So will a wooden raptor perch on a pole. The owls will land here first before flying into the nest box. The male will perch here and guard the nest while the female is inside incubating.

Nest box competitors and maintenance

The Screech Owl nest box dimensions are also suitable for other birds and animals who may try to take over the box for roosting or nesting.

European Starlings and various tree squirrels may try to take over the box. They will fill the box with straw (starlings) or leaves (squirrels). Remember that the owls don’t add any material to nests. Starlings may take several days to a week to build their nest. So try to remove the invading nesting material before the starlings lay eggs. If you see starlings or squirrels inspecting your box you need to do so, too. Remove any foreign material they may have added.

These nest boxes are also perfect for American Kestrels and Northern Flickers, too. These are desirable birds, so I wouldn’t be too upset if they nested instead of the owls. Remember, owls generally nest earlier in the spring than other birds. So if the kestrels or flickers begin nesting in the boxes in May or June, the owls likely aren’t going to nest this late in the year anyway.

Put up nest boxes in the fall or early winter so owls find them when they start scouting for nest sites in January. Raising young in a nest is messy. The nest box may become infested with various insects. Clean out the nest box in fall. Put in 2-3 inches of new wood shavings.

Eastern Screech Owl by Greg Hume

Wrapping Up

Before putting up an owl nesting box in your garden, there are several important things to consider to ensure its success and the well-being of the owls:

Habitat suitability:

  • Owl species: Identify the owl species you want to attract and research their specific habitat requirements. Different owls prefer different box sizes, locations, and surrounding landscapes.
  • Food availability: Ensure your garden and surrounding area offer a plentiful food source for the owls. This could include small rodents, insects, and other prey.
  • Quiet and disturbance: Owls prefer quiet, undisturbed areas. Choose a location away from busy roads, loud noises, and frequent human activity.
  • Competition: Check for potential competition from other nesting birds or existing owl territories in your area.

Box placement:

  • Location: Mount the box on a sturdy tree trunk, building, or pole at least 10-15 feet high. Choose a location protected from strong winds and direct sunlight.
  • Orientation: Face the box entrance north or northeast for protection from prevailing winds and hot summer sun.
  • Clearance: Ensure the entrance hole is clear of branches and other obstructions.
  • Safety: Avoid placing the box near windows, doors, or other areas where humans or pets could disturb the owls.

Box design:

  • Material: Choose a weather-resistant material like untreated wood or cedar to avoid overheating and toxic chemicals.
  • Dimensions: Select the right size box for the specific owl species you want to attract. Consult owl conservation websites for recommended dimensions.
  • Drainage: Drill drainage holes in the bottom of the box to prevent water accumulation.
  • Cleaning and predator control: Make the box easy to open for cleaning and potential predator removal. Consider installing a predator guard below the entrance hole.

Additional considerations:

  • Legality: Check for any local regulations or permits required for installing owl nesting boxes.
  • Monitoring: Observe the box discreetly to see if it’s being used. Avoid disturbing the owls during nesting and raising their young.
  • Patience: It may take time for owls to discover and use your nesting box. Don’t get discouraged if they don’t come immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do owl nesting boxes work?

The surrounding habitat has a major impact on whether an owl will take up your nesting box. If your garden offers an abundant food source, minimal disturbance, and suitable landscape features for a specific owl species, the box is more likely to be used. 

Choosing the right size box, constructing it from appropriate materials, and mounting it in a safe and secluded location all contribute to its appeal for owls.

Minimizing competition from other birds and taking measures to deter predators like raccoons further improve the box’s attractiveness and the owls’ success.

It may take time for owls to discover and utilize the box. Patience and discreet monitoring help ensure you don’t inadvertently deter them during the crucial nesting and chick-rearing period.

What time of year do you put up an owl box?

The best time to put up an owl box depends on a few factors, specifically:

1. Owl species you want to attract: Different species have different breeding seasons and may be more receptive to a new box at different times. Here’s a general guide:

  • Screech Owls: Mid-March to July
  • Barn Owls: December to early March
  • Great Horned Owls: January to April

2. Local climate: In warmer climates, you can install a box earlier, even as early as October or November, giving owls more time to become familiar with it before breeding season. In colder climates, wait until closer to the breeding season to avoid exposing the box to harsh winter conditions.

3. Existing owl activity: If you already see owls in your area during their breeding season, you can put up the box a couple of months before they typically nest. This gives them time to discover and assess the potential nesting site.

How close to a house can you put an owl box?

The acceptable distance for an owl box from your house depends on several factors, including the specific owl species you’re hoping to attract, their tolerance for human activity, and your personal preferences. Here’s a breakdown:

Owl Species Tolerance:

  • Highly tolerant: Barn Owls can often nest successfully in boxes attached to buildings or even inside barns or garages. Minimum distance of 30 feet is recommended, but they’ve been known to nest much closer with minimal disturbance.
  • Moderately tolerant: Eastern Screech Owls might tolerate boxes around 50-75 feet away from houses, especially if there’s intervening vegetation or structures.
  • Less tolerant: Great Horned Owls generally prefer more secluded areas and might avoid nesting within 100-150 feet of human activity.


  • Noise and light: Minimizing noise and light disturbances near the box is crucial for any owl species. Consider additional barriers like shrubs or fencing if the house is closer than the ideal distance.
  • Human activity: Avoid placing the box in areas with frequent foot traffic or close to windows and doors where owls might feel observed.
  • Chick-rearing period: During chick-rearing, owls can be more vocal and potentially disruptive. Consider the potential noise impact when choosing a location.
Comments 24
  1. Hi – Thanks so much for this article, and ALL your wonderful, educational articles!

    Can you please answer a few questions…

    1) I heard that Screech owls like "cover" so a pole mount would not as attractive as a tree mount. Is that correct?

    2) Do I need to keep the box a certain distance from a swimming pool. I heard the chicks might drown as they are not great flyers early on.

    3) I know Screech owls are very territorial, but I heard it was only towards other Screech owls, not other owl species. Can you give you thoughts on that?

    4) I have a stand of a few oak trees. Would placing a box in one of those be good?

    Again, THANKS for all your articles!

  2. Thank you for your comments and great questions, Steviemac.

    First of all, a stand of oaks would be a great place for a nest box.

    Larger owls will attack (and even eat!) smaller owls. Screech Owls and Saw-whet Owls are similar in size. Both are smaller. I've frequently found them near each other. But Screech Owls do vigorously defend their nests. That said, they seem sluggish during the day time.

    Your question on swimming pools I just do not know. Larger owls have been reported as rescued from large outdoor pools. They even drink and bathe in small kiddie pools. I would keep nest boxes as far as reasonable, and wouldn't have the box opening facing the pool.

    A tree mount would be ideal. But a pole mount could work too, according to my research. In either case, birds want a clear flight path to the box.

  3. Hi Greg… great info! I am worried, though, as we now have a great horned owl pair in our neighborhood and my little screech owl family that I’ve had for a few years didn’t nest for long this spring… is there anything I can do to protect them from the big guys??

  4. No. There is nothing you should be doing. They'll figure it out, even if it takes moving. Listen for them calling in September and then again next spring to see if they are still nearby.

  5. Great article, thanks! I have a 10 yo kestrel box that has had sparrows, starlings and a squirrel, but never a kestrel. This spring I tried to adjust the box and out flew a (I think) Western Screech Owl. I've been watching her and her mate, so fun and interesting. Yesterday I saw a very small bird perched on top of the box for quite a long time. Was that bird trying to intimate the owls? Or just being foolishly daring? I also saw a pair of robins harassing one of the owls perched a few feet away from the box. The owl just sat there and eventually the robins quieted down and left. It's nature unfolding right out my window, yay!

  6. That is so great! Screech Owls are so dumpy during the day that they can sometimes be picked up without struggling when they are roosting. But please don't do that! That's probably why the other birds were unconcerned about perching on the box during the day. At night it's quite the opposite.

  7. Hello, I very much enjoyed reading your article and am interested in mounting a Screetch Owl Nesting box to attract a family to my property; however I would like to know what impact that would have on the many wild turkey we have that also nest in trees on our property that I enjoy watching. Thank you, Kim B.

  8. No impact. Screech owls may eat mice, perhaps a small rat. But the turkeys will be safe.

    Isn't it amazing how turkeys fly up into trees in the evening to roost?

  9. Hello. Thank you for your informative article. I am also thinking about putting a Screech owl nesting box in my backyard. This summer, we had a family of Screech owls that visited our yard every night hanging out in our pond, which has a very shallow element to it that birds love to bathe in. We also have several bird feeders in our yard which attract many birds during the day. I'm wondering if all the daytime bird activity would be a deterrent. The Blue Jays can get quite loud when a hawk stops by. However, one of the Screech owls showed up the other day during a heavy downpour and sat under the overhang of our roof for a couple of hours, looking very sleepy. The Wrens fussed at her a bit and then moved on. The Jays didn't pay much attention to her and the squirrels went about their business. I'm just not sure what the dynamics would be like having a Screech owl nesting in a typical sized suburban yard with lots of bird activity during the day. And also, our only option would be a pole mount with baffle since we have so many critters in our backyard that would probably try to get into the box. That means our box could not be near any trees, which does not sound ideal to me, but I think is still doable? I would love to attract the owls, but not at the expense of driving away all the other birds that visit every day. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about the kind of habitat I have described? Could this work? Sorry so long… Donna

  10. I don't foresee too many problems with screech owl nesting box near daytime bird feeder. Pole sounds good too. Set it up now and perhaps you'll see nesting next spring!

  11. Love the info. Have a screech owl box in yard for 3 years but only squirrels are using. Imagine my shock when I discovered a screech in hole for first time two days ago. Hole faces north, so is it better to move now (when it turns dark out) or wait til owl is gone?? Thanks!

  12. No. If the bird is using it, leave it alone. If you want to move it September/October that'd be the time. But I'd wait and see what results.

  13. Hi! Should the box be a certain distance from a driveway or road? (Will cars/car sound/light dissuade the owls from nesting)

  14. I don't think it will keep them from nesting. Of course, a quieter location may be preferred, if available.

  15. We've had Western Screech Owls around our house/neighborhood for some years. We have a small above ground pool and often when I take late night swims in the summer, the Screech Owls, a pair, and from time to time, offspring, will show up while I am swimming and watch from telephone lines, apparently fascinated. At anyrate I finally put up a box in October and about a week ago, we heard screech owls calling all night from the tree with the box. Unfortunately, we had a huge windstorm that blew the box all whopper-jawed the next night. I had to get a ladder to straighten and secure the box – the owls were not around while I did so but since then they have been back only fleetingly. I wonder if something I did made them hesitate about using the box. Do you think they will be back?

  16. I'm sure they'll be back, as they already have a habit of visiting. However, most owls scout nesting sites in fall. I would expect them to already have a nest location picked out. But you never know!

  17. Thank you for such an informative post! We had a family of screech owls nesting in our box last year. This year, they came back but some squirrels decided to take over so they left and didn't nest. 🙁 Any suggestions on how to discourage squirrels to get into the box?

  18. I really don't have any direct experience with that. I believe that squirrels fill the nest box full with sticks and leaves. Remove those and the box will be suitable again for owls. But in a fight, who wins?

  19. Hi Greg. Great article. So I built a screech owl box. Have heard a pair of them at night but never seen them. I own an acre of mowed yard with 3 willows in it. On the edge of the mowed part of the property I have 3 bluebird houses mounted on poles with about 18 inches of chicken wire I had cut as to always be presenting the sharp points of the wire. I wrapped this several passes high around the poles as to cover about 10 inches of the pole with downward facing sharp spikes. It has kept the bluebirds safe from all predation.
    I also own an acre of woods with a drainage creek so to speak at the back of it. It only fills with water during the wet months. The woods are old growth, 80 foot tall trees mixed with mid size and sapplings. I have cleared out all the thickets and undergrowth through 75% of it. It's got plenty of open flight room. I had a great horned owl pass through a couple months back and watched him glide easily through the under canopy. Lots of squirrels. A family of raccoons. They keep their distance though once I started eliminating the skunks that were after my chickens.
    My big question is this….where do I put this owl box? Edge of the woods facing my yard? Halfway into the woods to give them more cover and privacy but expose them to more squirrels and predators? If I place the box in a tree it will be accessible to squirrels, there is no way to find one they can't get to the box. Raccoons too probably. Can I spike strip the tree so to speak like I did with the chicken wire wrap on the poles I have my bluebird boxes on?I would have to spike all approaches if I'm even able to make that work. The last thing I want to do is get this box up for the owls to get attacked and lose chicks. I just don't see how that is possible while putting them in any kind of tree. But at the same time i worry that placing the box facing the clear yard on the edge of the treeline that my mowing and all the human activity will deter them from nesting there. Also the box I built called for a 3"X4" oval hole .. is that too big? Sorry for the novel but I want to get this right.

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