Barn owl boxes installed near San Benito River

Graniterock and two nonprofits partner to aid wildlife restoration in Hollister.
Owl Box project. Herman Garcia, Mark Schleicher, Marty Martinez and Rachel Reed. Photo Carmel de Bertaut
Checking on potential tree for box installation. Photo Carmel de Bertaut
Riparian habitat. Photo Carmel de Bertaut

Three local organizations are partnering to install two barn owl nesting boxes as part of the San Benito River habitat restoration project. Representatives met on Sept. 14 to decide where to place the boxes the following day. 

Graniterock’s Biological Resources Project Manager Rachel Reed, along with Herman Garcia, head of the nonprofit Coastal Habitat Education and Environmental Restoration (CHEER) and his volunteer Mary Martinez met with Mark Schleicher of Native Animal Rescue, a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Santa Cruz at Graniterock’s location by the San Benito River at Buena Vista Road in Hollister. 

Schleicher has been building the nesting boxes as a fundraising project, and with help from students at Santa Cruz High School, he has made over 300.

The boxes provide a cavity for barn owls to use when suitable nesting sites are not available in a habitat that should support the species. Nests sites can be lost to many factors including habitat destruction. 

Several factors were considered for the location, such as whether barn owls would be able to find the box and whether the box can be faced east to allow the morning sun to heat it.

Though the boxes are well ventilated, overheating can also be a problem, so this also factors into where a box is placed. 

Other animals in the area must also be considered. While on site, over 10 species of birds and mammals were seen, including a great-horned owl which would be in competition with barn owls for food. 

A barn owl perched in a tree. Image by Gayle Mowat from Pixabay
A barn owl perched in a tree. Image by Gayle Mowat from Pixabay

After about 30 minutes both box locations were determined and Schleicher agreed to return to the site on Sept. 15 to install them. 

“I knew Mark and Native Animal Rescue would be the perfect partnership for this work,” Reed said. “This parcel includes grasslands and riparian habitat that is ideal for barn owls.” Graniterock made a donation to Native Animal Rescue for the installation of nest boxes on the San Benito River property. Following installation, the nest boxes will be monitored for occupancy and cleaned as needed. 

In 2019 Graniterock partnered with CHEER to remove garbage and debris from this location. CHEER is 

CHEER began its work with habitat reclamation to restore water quality and aquatic life. Garcia told BenitoLink that during several clean-ups over the last two years at this site it has removed over 400 tires, 17 vehicles and two boats. 

“At Graniterock we want to set a good example as the property owner to stop this illegal dumping activity,” Reed said. “CHEER has a proven track record of maintaining watersheds, so we asked them to take the lead on removing trash and helping us restore the habitat.” 

Garcia, Martinez and other volunteers such as Gavilan College students and some homeless residents have been dedicated to this clean-up and have worked with Graniterock to remove vehicles, RVs and boats that were abandoned at the site.

Now begins the restoration phase of the project. This includes wildlife enhancement projects, such as installation of cavity-nesting bird boxes. 

Schleicher explained that started volunteering for Native Animal Rescue when a spinal condition stopped him from working—yet if he stops moving, his spine will freeze. 

He said he has found a “happy place” with Native Animal Rescue and other nonprofits. He said building a box takes about three hours but his involvement does not stop there. He will monitor the boxes, collect data and maintain the boxes, which includes cleaning them out starting in their second year of use. 


Other related BenitoLink articles:

Local groups clean portion of San Benito River


Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.