The Owl and the Pussycat

This post was written before the garden received an the estimate for repairs to the cob shed of over $1500. Given the anticipated expense, we will have to wait for our “community chest” to recover. Lets shoot for 2012––

Would an owl eat your beloved pet cat?

In a discussion at our last meeting about our garden’s exploding rat population, garden member Michelle suggested we consider introducing owls. This sticky question about cat safety quickly followed.

So, I Googled up some facts: Barn Owls eat mostly rodents and small birds. For a Barn Owl to thrive, it needs to eat one rat a day, and that would put a serious dent in our rat population. Barn Owls offer little threat to other animals, as they hunt nocturnally. This means there is little danger for the neighborhood rabbits and chickens, since these animals are caged at night. But what about the cats? Read on.

To attract the owls we would need to provide nesting habitat.

Here are some costs: an owl house ($115) can be placed on 12′ post ($30-60). Add shipping costs, a bag of concrete to set the pole, and mounting hardware. Make it two (2) owl boxes and the total cost to our garden would not exceed $395– installed. A serious investment considering our small kitty. Yes, what about that cat?

Curious about whether we could inspire additional owl boxes in the neighborhood, Robin and I emailed John and Carol, the Peralta Garden Coordinators (their neighboring garden is also a rat boomtown). Then we met with a representative from the Carl Lind Garden. All were enthusiastic about the idea of installing owl boxes in their gardens, contingent on approval by membership.

We also met with City of Berkeley vector control specialist. His recommendations for integrated pest management were:

  1. Pick fruits and vegetables (before the rats do)
  2. Seal up our compost bins
  3. Keep our buckets empty of water
  4. Keep vines trimmed off the top of fences
  5. Keep unused poles, boards, and plastic out of plots (these offer hiding and nesting places)

He was very interested and supportive of our owl plan– with one reservation. He suggested we check with our neighbors in the immediate area to see if any are using rat poison– owls who eat poisoned rats become poisoned themselves (cats may also).

(Already Dead of Natural Causes)

So the next steps are:

  • Surveying the neighbors about rat poison use
  • Membership approving the expenditure (membership approved one box, 10/2011)
  • Sourcing the owl boxes and construction materials
  • Installing the owl boxes

Of course, there is no guarantee that we will have owls move in, even though the Barn Owl has been named the “official bird” of the City of Berkeley.

If you have read this far… the upshot of my research is: Barn Owls do not eat cats.