Owls that lost eggs at construction site to get new home 

A newly constructed nesting place for owls may bring hundreds of new birds near a home in Santa Clara County, where a clutch of owl eggs was rescued from harm's way on Friday.

About a week ago, workers were installing a new roof on an old two-story house in the unincorporated town of San Martin when they noticed a large bird fly from an alcove, according to WildRescue, a Monterey-based group that helps animals in precarious situations.

On closer inspection, crews found the small white round eggs of a barn owl, said Rebecca Dmytryk, the organization's founder.

"There was evidence that the pair of owls had nested there for some time," Dmytryk said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials were called, and a joint decision was made with WildRescue to remove the eggs on the belief that the un-hatched owls' lives were in jeopardy, she said.

"There are so many factors to consider at that construction site," Dmytryk said. "Protecting the space around the nest wasn't going to be enough."

The eggs were removed and taken to the International Bird Rescue center in Fairfield, where they were placed in a state-of-the-art incubator that keeps the eggs at just the right temperature and turns them after an allotted time.

The mother and father owls will also be getting a new home, which WildRescue crews plan to construct on Monday.

At the consent of the homeowners in San Martin, a barn owl box made of plywood will be built near the house for the two owls found at the property, Dmytryk said.

"It's early enough in the season that the pair should be able to have one if not two more clutches," she said.

She said the box, which will be about 24 inches by 36 inches, could be big enough for the owls to have up to 13 eggs in a clutch.

"Barn owls do really well in these manmade homes," she said.

If the mother owl continues to lay eggs, the new babies could eat the equivalent of 12 mice each night, offering a good option for rural and even urban Bay Area residents dealing with a mouse invasion.

"These boxes are becoming common because they're seen as a good alternative to rodent poison," she said.

Cats, on the other hand, also kill mice, but create more problems than they solve, and shouldn't be used to fight rodent infestation, according to Dmytryk.

"Cats kill all wildlife and take food away from owls," she said, adding that snakes, foxes, bobcats, coyotes are also deprived of wild food because of the felines.

"It's upsetting the natural balance tremendously," she said.

The rescued owl eggs may have a tough road ahead of them.

Dmytryk said when the eggs hatch in about 30 days, crews will try and find a wild owl nest where the babies can be placed. But the new owl family needs to have babies of its own of roughly the same age, and the parents may also need to have lost another baby owl.

"If a baby owl blows out of a palm tree and dies, for example, then we have a potential to reunite the family with one of the owls we found once they hatch," she said.

Specialists will otherwise have to rehabilitate and release the owls into the wild once the birds can fend for themselves. But it's better to put them with a family, if possible.

"It's certainly in the best interest of the owls, to get them with a parent," Dmytryk said. "They require quite a bit tutoring after they hatch."

Bay Area residents interested in having a barn owl box installed on their property can e-mail rescue@wildrescue.org.

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