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Wildlife Damage Management

Great horned owl - photo by Don Getty

Owls

There are eight species of owls in Alabama. The barn owl, eastern screech owl, and great horned owl are listed as species of moderate conservation concern. The short-eared owl is listed as a species of high conservation concern. The Northern Saw-whet owl, the long eared owl, and the burrowing owl are all rarely seen in Alabama. The barred owl is probably the most common and abundant in our state.

Owls can play an important role in keeping pests like rats, insects, squirrels, snakes, crows, and skunks at bay. They are effective hunters of small mammals, birds, Barn owl - Photo by Don Gettyreptiles, and some insects. Most nuisance complaints about owls arise when they roost or build nests in chimneys or other areas of homes. They pose no real danger to humans, but they can be noisy and their excrement can create a smelly mess. In addition to feces, owls regurgitate large pellets of undigested food part (like bones and fur) that some may find objectionable. The good news is that the pellets do not harbor any disease and may make an interesting show and tell items for your kids at school.

If you live in a rural or even somewhat suburban area where there are good hunting grounds for owls, you should screen your chimney and take other steps to keep owls from roosting in exposed parts of your home or garage. Screening openings to your home like chimneys and shoring up holes in wood siding, eve coverings, and roofing will easily exclude owls. Stretching high-tension wire along rooflines and other perching spots will also discourage them from loitering on your property. Removing brush piles that attract small mammals may encourage them to move along as well. Larger owls, especially great horned owls, may take smaller animals like pets for prey, but in general, they they prefer easier sources of food. A healthy cat or small dog, especially when seen in the company of a human, is not easy prey compared to a little chipmunk or field mouse. Chickens can occasionally become prey for owls, so they should be secured in a covered coop at night.

Owls, like other animals, need food and cover. If your property offers no comfortable, accessible haven to perch, then they will not stay. If food is scarce, they will move on to a place where there are more mice, squirrels, and lizards, upon which to forage. When exclusion tactics do not work, try non-lethal scare devices like alarms and lights. Shining a light where an owl perches will almost always send them packing. It may take a week or so of consistent harassment to get an owl to move on, but they are federally protected, so your options are limited. In cases where their presence becomes a danger to humans, a depredation permit can be requested through the Wildlife Services Office of APHIS. Watch the video on this page for more information.

More Info
(From University of Nebraska and University of Wisconsin)
Federal Protection
(From United States Department of Interior)
Alabama Raptors Video