A home for owls amongst the gum trees

It takes hundreds of years for a barn owl hole to form in the trunk of a tree, but not long at all to get rid of a tree with a hole in it to make way for houses. “They’ve knocked down a whole lot of trees around here lately so the owls are losing places to live,” says Joe Tonga, who was recently called out to build a new place in Hilton for a homeless barn owl.

Local Ann Boekeman noticed the owl hanging around a couple of months ago, and called Mr Tonga after reading about his bird boxes with infra-red cameras in the Herald (Big brother spies on birds, July 21). “Hilton’s an owl-rich area, with barn owls and the southern boo-book owls here – it’s also rich with big trees,” says Mr Tonga, a carpenter by trade with a fascination for birds. The 150cm high box is the biggest he’s made and is the equivalent size of a 350 year old tree. Barn owls grow to about 35cm high.

Once the barn owl has settled in, Mr Tonga will whip back up the tree and put in cameras which will eventually be hooked up to the Internet. He’s built similar boxes for bats at the Piney Lakes Environmental Centre in Winthrop and makes boxes with or without cameras for bird enthusiasts.

— By Matt Chambers for the Fremantle Herald

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