KINGSBURG – Kingsburg 4-H members are doing their part to keep mice and other rodents from taking over the country side.

On Jan. 20, a group of 15 members, ranging in age from fourth to eighth grade, met with local farmers and landowners to learn how to build barn owl boxes. A clutch of six owlets can consume almost 70 pounds of rodents in the few months between when they hatch and become fledglings.

“Barn owls serve an important function in keeping rodent populations in check,” woodworking project leader Travis Hambleton said.

The box project was the result of one 4-H parent’s suggestion that they tackle a fourth wood-working project. After brainstorming some ideas, they found a design for a barn owl box from the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. The project included drawings and instructions to share with the students, as well as background on barn owls, how to properly mount the boxes and also how to care for them, Hambleton said.

The design is based on the work of Steve Simmons, a Merced woodshop teacher. Simmons’ design protects the barn owls from predators since it includes an interior divider that separates the box into two compartments and keeps other birds out of the living area.

Hambleton said the students were able to apply skills they’ve learned from previous wood projects.

“[Those skills included] measuring and marking the wood, drilling the holes, gluing the joints and using screws to secure the various parts. This project required installing small hinges. We have not done before so that was a challenge for the students.”

The students worked in teams of two, and were supported by a parent as they drilled, glued and used screws to construct the boxes. They also learned how to safely use a saber saw, or jigsaw, to cut the correct oval-shaped hole for the owls’ entrance into the box.

Fourth grader Madeline Dix said she’s enjoyed attending the wood workshops and has built a number of other projects already.

“This is not the first time I’ve built something out of wood. In our other 4-H woodworking meetings, I had fun building a toolbox and a decorative pumpkin for Thanksgiving. I have also built a wooden birdhouse with my grandpa.”

Although working with a team mate helped, it still took a good chunk of time to complete the owl nesting box.

“It was more helpful having a partner with this project,” fourth-grader Jack Hambleton said. “My partner, Jared, and I worked together and it still took two hours.”

In other 4-H projects, the students are learning a variety of skills and topics.

Fourth grader James Ergo said he’s also involved in horticulture, hand-stitching, poultry, Hi-C (leadership and citizenship) and public speaking.

Eighth-grader Zachary Ergo is the president of Kingsburg’s 4-H and junior project leader.

“I’m learning a lot about leadership, organization and public speaking. I’m also in poultry, hand-stitching and Hi-C.”

Aside from carpentry, 4-H leaders say they hope the students are learning other skills that can be used at school, at home and in the future.

“Communication is a major focus of 4-H, so we ask each student to say something at the start of every meeting,” Hambleton said. “There are also lots of great careers that require these skills, and they are not taught in schools any more, for the most part. Woodworking is fun, challenging work that requires our students to think, to problem-solve and use their muscles at the same time.”

The group is now offering the barn owl boxes to the public and the students are excited to know their boxes are not only helping owls have a safe place to live but are also keeping rodents in check.

“If you hang up a barn owl box in your yard or on your property, an owl might make a home out of it and eat rodents,” James Ergo said.

“The owl boxes were made by youth members of Kingsburg 4-H, so people who buy them are supporting our club,” Zachary Ergo added.

The boxes are available for a suggested donation of $75 to Kingsburg 4-H. Customers will need to arrange a pick-up time and date.

Once purchased, the boxes are typically mounted on flat surfaces such as buildings or rectangular wooden poles, in large trees or on metal poles. Thorough instructions on how and where to locate the barn owl boxes are included a pdf online at

Hambleton said the group is already brainstorming ideas for its next project and open to suggestions. They also welcome adult project leaders to lead group activities.

“We are considering building a shoe storage bench at our meeting in February,” Hambleton said, “although we are open to ideas.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or