A week or two ago, I was talking to a couple neighbors about rats. They didn’t get the memo about how genteel Berkeley has become. Just about everyone here encounters them in compost bins or scurrying across backyard fences from one tangle of ivy to another. The guy next door said he thought it would be great if we had owls to take care of the rodents and had considered putting up a nesting box in his yard to attract one. We have seen owls here before, notably a great horned owl that showed up in a neighbors backyard cedar at dusk one day and seemed to be hunting our little cat. I wondered how easy it would be to attract owls, though (the evidence from my reading is mixed: they prefer a rural setting, naturally, but seem have adapted somewhat to the steamroller ways of Homo americanus.)
The other night, walking the dog a couple blocks from home in our un-rural neighborhood, we heard a sound nearby: a loud, pulsing creak. Two, three, four times, like a rusty gate opening and closing. It crossed my mind that it was an owl drawn to our rodent smorgasbord After a block, we heard the sound again, very close by. Then some sort of bird flew up off a telephone line just ahead of us, down the sloping street, then settled again. Close up, the sound had changed from a creak to a short, keening scream, a little unnerving in the dark. I had a bright LED headlight with me, and shone it on the bird from just across the street: a barn owl. So, maybe they’re moving into the area already. Can we encourage them to stay? Here’s one outfit (in Marin County) that seems to say yes.