A show-and-tell project that one Chilliwack boy brought into his Grade 1 classroom has turned into something his entire school can learn from.
Six-year-old Wyatt Gore helped build an owl box made out of recycled materials which was installed outside Unsworth Elementary on Friday, Feb. 11.
Wyatt spoke enthusiastically about it that day, explaining how it works.
“The owl comes in here,” he said pointing to a hole at the front of the box.
“She doesn’t put her babies there because the racoons or horned owls can reach in and take the babies so they hide them over here,” he said, pointing to the nesting area inside the owl box which is separated from the entrance by a partial wall.
“And then Dr. (Dick) Clegg opens this up,” Wyatt said opening the door to the nesting area, “to put bands around their little legs. So when they get in a car accident or they eat a poisonous rat he can get the number and locate it.”
Wyatt has been sharing his knowledge of owls with his classmates recently. Last week, he and the other students in Sonja Dyck’s Grade 1 class at Unsworth have been immersed in the topic.
It all led up to the big day on Friday where the owl box was installed on Harjit Saghera’s property – a neighbouring farm to the south of the school. The area has lots of hunting ground for owls.
“(Harjit) knew about the owls, he was totally accommodating,” said Tony Gore, Wyatt’s dad.
Before the box was installed, Chilliwack barn owl expert Dr. Dick Clegg chatted with the kids about the project and owls.
Clegg is the one who designed the box which is specifically for barn owls.
There are two “rooms” in the owl box. When a barn owl enters the box through an opening at the front, it goes around a wall which is built only part way across the box. On the other side of the wall is the nesting area.
“A crow landing here doesn’t dare go in and around the corner because there might be an adult owl there that would just snag him and eat him. So that little wall prevents the crow from getting in,” Clegg said to the class as everyone peered inside the open box.
Other predators include racoons, ravens, cats and horned owls.
The box has good airflow and ventilation at the top to prevent the birds from overheating in the summer. It also has a veranda so the owlets can stand outside and practise flapping their wings before they take off.
“I’ve never seen a fancier box,” Clegg said.
Wyatt helped make it with his dad Tony, his uncle Lee Gore and carpenter Tonny Cormier.
On Friday, the kids in Wyatt’s class grabbed fistfuls of long grass to toss into the nesting section of the box since owls don’t make their own nests. The box was then passed over a chainlink fence into Saghera’s property and secured to a wooden pole before being lifted into place by a crew from Gore Brothers and other friends.
Even though the kids likely won’t see the owls since they’re nocturnal, Tony Gore is hoping they will leave pellets behind so the kids can pick them up and study them.
“I’m hoping it’ll be an ongoing learning (experience) over the years,” Gore said.
Plus, he added, owls are great at getting rid of unwanted rodents. A family of five barn owls, including two adults and three young will feed on about 1,000 rodents during a season.
“For rodent control, they’re pretty amazing to have around,” Gore said.
Clegg will return in the coming weeks and months to check inside the box and to band any owlets when they’re about two to four weeks old.
In the meantime, young Wyatt and his class will continue to educate others at the school.
“Wyatt’s been doing a great job telling the kids ‘don’t put out rat poison,’” said teacher Sonja Dyck. If rat poison doesn’t kill the owl, it can make them groggy and then they’re in danger of being hit by vehicles.
Dyck looked up at the barn owl box after it was installed as she spoke with Wyatt.
“Wyatt, do you think that other kids at the school are going to notice this? Do we still have some work to do as a class?”
“Yes,” he said.
“What do we need to do now?”
“Tell everyone!” Wyatt exclaimed.