Mar 9, 2022 - News

30 screech owl houses installed at Pease Park

A man stands on a ladder, hanging a bird house on a tree.

Marshall May hangs a screech owl house in Pease Park. Photo: Courtesy of Pease Park Conservancy

Doris, Betty White and Eloise have all made Central Texas their home over the years.

Sure, Austin property taxes are skyrocketing and rent isn't cheap, but these wooden houses nailed to trees more than 10 feet in the air are safe, ventilated for hot summer days and spacious enough for owlets.

The big picture: Hundreds of screech owls have moved into homes designed by Marshall May, a retired Austinite who's been here for 50 years.

  • He's built the nesting boxes using his knowledge of cooling computers dating back to the 1980s and drawing from his wife's understanding of the owls as a former Texas Parks and Wildlife employee.
  • "I incorporated that into the [owl] box because I thought it would be really useful if the sun hit it a lot," May told Axios on Monday.

Driving the news: May said he's built 448 owl houses, 30 of which were recently installed at Pease Park.

  • He designed his owl houses with cedar boards that are 23-inches tall and have a 16-inch cavity.
  • They're expected to last more than 30 years and include drainage and air holes and a "low volume of higher velocity air" slot, which quickly cools the screech owls' home.

Flashback: May built his first owl box in 2006 and hung it in his backyard, where it became home to Doris, the eastern screech owl, who lived there for more than 15 years before dying in 2021 of old age.

  • "Their housing has been disappearing for a long time, and so have their numbers," May said. "I'm hoping I can put some more housing up and get their numbers back up."

Zoom in: Austin resident Mary Tipps, a board member of the Pease Park Conservancy, funded 25 owl homes for the park late last year after she received her own aviary inn built and installed by May.

  • Tipps welcomed Betty White the screech owl into her box just a few weeks later: "She's been the local celebrity for my neighborhood."
  • And Tipps knew Pease Park would be a perfect home for screech owls.

What they're saying: Pease Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that maintains the Central Austin 84-acre public green space, OK'd the installation of May's owl houses.

  • "Screech owls are native here, so we want to help provide a habitat for them," said Allison Johnson, director of community engagement at the Pease Park Conservancy.
  • It's tough to know how many screech owls live in the park, but that doesn't mean they're not there, Johnson explained.
    • "Our staff is really there during the daytime, which is probably when they're more in hiding," she said.

Of note: Axios Austin reader Pati McCandless first emailed us about Tipps' donation to Pease Park and sent us a photo of her own owl house with its new resident: Eloise.

  • McCandless' bird house wasn't made by May, but Eloise moved in just four weeks after she hung the home.

Get involved: Find the Pease Park owl houses with the help of this map or consider installing your own.

  • May charges $50 for each owl house and will hang it for $20 more. He can be reached at 512-462-2786.

Or build your own using this guide from Aubudon.


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