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Looking to learn about owl decoys and how they work?
Well then, you're in the right place!
In this guide you'll learn:
- Do Owl Decoys Work?
- Owl Biology and Behavior
- Multiple Decoy Locations
- Types of Popular Decoys
- Decoy Placement And Concealment
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology tells us that installing a predator decoy such as an owl or eagle will scare away the birds, but only for a short time because it doesn't move. The birds soon realize it's not alive and lose their fear of it. The question then, isn't “Do owl decoys work?”.
The real question is how to maximize their effectiveness by the way we utilize them. It's like using a pickup truck as a dump truck. If you throw five or six tons of rocks and dirt in the bed of a normal pickup, you'll probably bust the shocks.
But if you use that same pickup to tow a trailer with six tons of rock and dirt on it, it might be slow going but you'll get there. The key is how you use it.
We're going to show you the same kind of thing with owl decoys; how to place and where to place them, when to move them, what kinds to use, and when to use them. But first, we need to discuss owls and why other birds are so scared of them.
There's a lot of information to cover, so let's get started!
How Do Owl Decoys Work?
To understand how and why decoys work – and don't work – we first need to understand something about owls themselves. Luckily for us, the biology of owls is fairly straightforward.
Owls are predators. Generally speaking, owls of all sorts have many characteristics in common. Most of them are what are called “opportunistic hunters”, who will feed on all kinds of prey, from something as small as a spider or large as a fox.
Typically, they have large eyes, rigid feathers, excellent nighttime vision, acute hearing, sharp talons, curved beaks, and a very stiff posture.
Owls have front-facing eyes that can't move from side-to-side the way ours can. To compensate, owls have to rotate their head back and forth in their iconic fashion in order to view the surrounding area. This is probably one of the most widely recognized traits of any owl.
The most common owls in North America are Spotted Owls, Barn Owls, Snowy Owls, Eastern Screech Owls, and Great Horned Owls. They're fairly easy to recognize.
Great Horned Owls
This is a large type of “eagle owl” due to their plumed tufts on its head. The tufts are often referred to as ears although they're nothing of the kind. This is one of the larger owls and a fierce predator.
It hunts rabbits, skunks, crows, ospreys, and reptiles of various sorts. It's a nighttime hunter, swooping in on its prey from above. It will generally nest high up in trees or on the rooftops of buildings.
Eastern Screech Owls
These owls come in several varieties, but generally are small owls with striking ear tufts and dark coloration, usually brown, grey, or red. The grey colored owls are almost invisible against some ground, grey-hued trees, a natural camouflage that helps them hunt.
In wooded habitats, they will sit patiently, waiting for prey to venture into sight, then swoop down on them. True to their name they communicate with noisy calls that can signify aggression, protection, or courtship.
These beautiful owls are some of the most striking in the owl family. Their pure white face and mottled white and tan body and wings are instantly recognizable. They are well adapted to winter climates.
Snowy owls have excellent hearing and are accustomed to perch high above the snow listening for the rustling movements of their prey. Then it swoops down silently to grab them in its strong talons and beak.
The most common owl in North America, the Barn Owl is also known as the Monkey-faced Owl. They have small eyes in a heart-shaped face that is almost pure white with a thin line around it.
The line creates the shape of a heart and gives them their distinctive appearance. They're excellent nocturnal hunters who communicate with the prototypical owl “hoot” sound.
These large spotted, white-and-brown owls have round, tuftless heads and large dark eyes. A thin line of white slanted feathers just over the eyes give them the appearance of having frown lines like a comic book villain.
Their range stretches from Canada, through the United States, then down into Mexico. Not only will they attack and eat smaller birds, but they'll steal their nests to use as their own.
Although these owls and others have some differences in appearance and hunting ranges, all of them share the characteristic habit of roosting high above the ground when they're not flying.
From their lofty position, they can swoop down with terrifying speed on their prey. They also tend to sit in trees if possible or along rooftops if nothing else is available. Roosting on tree branches helps conceal them from their prey.
Owl decoys have been used to scare away birds for many years, as this October 29, 1986, New York Times article will attest. So the dodge isn't exactly new. It's been around a while.
The trick is to keep the birds from getting wise to it. To do that you need to adopt several strategies to use owl decoys birds think are real.
Should You Use Multiple Decoys?
There are literally dozens of different owl decoys available on the market today. Most of them are incredibly realistic and life-like. They're made of plastic that is hand painted and textured to look exactly like the real thing.
Nearly every species of owl has its own decoy that not only looks totally real, they are also life-sized to complete the illusion. The first time birds they'll squawk in fear then turn tail and run.
But, as noted above by the researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, birds will soon realize (in a matter of days) that the decoys are just that and lose all fear of them. The number one method, the easiest method, of avoiding that is to use four or five decoys, all different.
Switch the decoys out on a daily basis if at all possible, but certainly every other day at a minimum. If you let the decoy sit out for more than a couple of days the birds will almost certainly catch on and the fright factor for any subsequent decoy in the same general area will be substantially reduced.
Decoys aren't hideously expensive, but they do cost money. If nuisance birds lose their fear of the decoys it will be the same as if you'd thrown all that money right down the drain.
The following video will give you more tips on how to properly use fake owls.
Where Should You Place Your Owl Decoys?
In addition to using multiple decoys, you should also utilize multiple locations for staging your decoys. If you put an immobile decoy in the same place day after day, the birds will soon figure out that no harm is coming to them from anything in that position.
It will take them a little longer than if you were putting out the same decoy every day, but eventually, they will realize there's no danger.
You need to find a number of locations for your decoys that is equal to two more than the number of decoys you have. For instance, if you have five decoys, find seven locations around your property to put them in.
As you take decoy #1 down, you'll put the decoy #2 up in a different place. Then decoy #3 in a different location, then the decoy #4 in a new spot, then decoy #5 in a varied position until you get back to decoy #1.
But because you're using more locations than you have decoys, it ensures decoy #1 won't be going back to its original location. This time it'll be somewhere new.
Continuing this rotation will result in each decoy occupying a new position each time you put it out. This keeps the birds from figuring out what's going on.
All they know is that one day an owl is in one place, and the next day a different owl is in a different place. Since no owl is ever in the same place for more than one day, they can't figure out what is going on and they remain scared – which of course is the whole idea.
Which Type of Owl Decoy is Most Effective?
In addition to the regular decoys, there are several types of owl decoys you can deploy around your house or business. These are decoys that move, have flashing lights for eyes, make sounds or some combination of the three.
Solar powered and motion activated decoys such as this one, or wind-powered decoys like this one with wings that move around, or one with a head that bobs and turns, or decoys with flashing eyes, or even decoys that combine movement with sound and light, all add to the effectiveness of the basic decoys themselves.
The ones that startle birds the most are the motion activated ones. They fly into an area, perhaps without seeing the decoy, then it suddenly moves, makes some noise, or the eyes flash.
It catches the birds by surprise and they're startled into flying away in fear. And when one squawks and flies away, the rest will follow suit even if they don't know what's going on. It's the old birds of a feather flock together syndrome.
Which Area of the House are the Decoys Most Effective?
Owls like to perch high overhead so they can survey a large area then swoop down on their prey when they spot it or hear it. Birds are well aware of this fact.
Owl decoys that are placed on the ground are being used contrary to the normal behavior of real owls. It greatly reduces the effectiveness of the decoy when it's used that way.
Place your decoys in the same places real owls would perch and you'll get much better results. Put them up in trees, on rooftops, and high poles – the higher, the better. It makes it a little awkward to put them up and take them down but the results will be worth it.
Should You Conceal Your Decoy?
Concealing your owl decoy sounds a bit counter-intuitive at first but it's really not. Owls will often perch in semi-concealed locations so their prey doesn't know they're there.
Then they can burst out of hiding to kill them when they venture into range. Once again, birds are well aware of this facet of owl behavior and they're always on the lookout for them.
You don't want to actually conceal your decoy. What you want to do is make it look like the owl is trying to hide.
Putting them on a tree limb near some leaves or vines, stationing them near the base of a chimney, or on a beam under the porch will leave them exposed while at the same time appearing to be an attempt at concealment.
You can occasionally put your decoys out in the open, but at least half the time you should make a pretend effort to hide them. This will further add to the realism of your decoys by mimicking actual owl behavior.
The following video will give you tips on how to properly install an owl decoy on a balcony railing.
The Bottom Line About Owl Decoys
Owls are nocturnal predators. Birds expect to see them flying around at night and perching by day. If the birds see you placing a decoy during the day it decreases the chances of them reacting appropriately to it.
The best time of day to put out your decoys, or change them around, is before sunup or after sundown. Most of the nuisance birds you're trying to get rid of will be nesting so they won't see where you're putting the decoys.
Once the sun comes up, the placement of the decoys will surprise them. This is what we want.
Use multiple decoys, all different. Use some decoys that move, make sounds, or have flashing lights.
Have more places to put the decoys than you have decoys, so they all get rotated to different locations, up high in trees, rooftops, and other elevated locations to keep the birds from figuring out they're not real. Also, we advised you to change out the decoys every day.
Finally, we've urged you to pretend to hide the decoys in order to mimic the normal hunting and roosting behavior of most owls.
By putting all these strategies together you'll be able to keep the birds from realizing the true nature of the decoys. Your yard and house will be bird free as long as they think the decoys are the real McCoy.