a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

New home for an old trunk


It all began some eight years ago.  The large building next to our house was always called by the previous owners the atelier, so Amelia and I have kept that name.  It is more than a barn.  It stores all our garden furniture, the ride-on mower, the wood for the fire place, and a variety of objects that Amelia keeps asking me to throw away but I tell her that they might come handy someday!

Most years we have had a variety of birds nesting inside it, including wrens, redstarts, and house martins.  But some years ago I noticed a barn owl flying in and out late in the evenings.  I love barn owls and decided to find out how I might be able to give it a home. Many sites including the Barn Owl Trust in the UK have advice on how to build and erect a barn owl nest.

I looked for a simple way to erect a nest, and eventually I found an old trunk in the local charity depot called Trois Francs Six Sous.  This totally volunteer run organisation operates locally but is similar to the Emmaus charity stores.  Emmaus is an international solidarity movement founded in Paris after the war by the Catholic priest and Capuchin friar Abbé Pierre to combat poverty and homelessness.  The expression Trois Francs Six Sous refers to something that costs ‘next to nothing’ or as we might say in England ‘tuppence’.

The old chest itself proved an interesting item for me.  In it I found a little booklet about 5 cm long with one side the face of someone unhappy and the other a happy face.


It was a small saints day calendar  with the first page indicating the year of its publication.


I have no idea of the exact age of the trunk, but I would guess that it is easily over a hundred years old.  It was beautifully made with two bands of material on the outside.  I was pleased that I could give it a new life.

I cut a square hole at one end of this chest and one third along the chest I placed a partition going three quarter up from the side.  By the time I had finished making the nest it was quite heavy and although Amelia was willing to help, I had to lift it and climb up the ladder to fix the trunk  nearly four metres high inside the atelier along the wall.  It was not an easy task!  I just hoped that one day the owl might fancy using it


The top of the atelier is open to the outside so the birds can easily enter and leave at their pleasure.  After nearly two years of patience, recently I have seen plenty of evidence of the presence of the barn owl with his pellets (not so bad), as well as large white splashes (not so good) in the atelier.

Eventually yesterday I decided to do something that I rarely like to do which is to try to investigate if any bird had actually visited the old chest.  So I put up the ladder and stuck my camera just on the inside at the edge of the partition, and took two quick photos.  The quality of the photos are not so good as I was obliged to use my old Canon Powershot.


Just beyond the partition, I saw the evidence that I had hoped for:  a single barn owl (tyto alba) or as they call it here effraie des clochers.  


I understand that it is quite difficult to determine the sex of barn owls, although I hope I will be corrected on that.  This bird has been visiting us for a number of years and I am not sure if he is a confirmed bachelor or not.  I just hope that he is happy in his home and that this year he will find a mate.


Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

38 thoughts on “New home for an old trunk

  1. A lovely story and great recycling of an old trunk!


  2. So the hard work paid off! I love hearing the owls in the woods near us, but never see them. So you are very lucky to have one within view!


    • The barn owls don’t seem to have the familiar hoot sound of tawny owls. Theirs is more of a screech sound. I often hear it late at night when I suppose he catches mice in the atelier. Amelia and I often seen him flying in and out in the evening. – K

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh wow! It looks cosy and he is a good fit for it. I thought he might have liked more bedding material, but being a hardened bachelor perhaps he scoffs at such comforts.


  4. Best bit of innovative recycling I’ve seen – ever!! Let’s hope your ‘singleton’ Owl will eventually turn the trunk into a proper family home……………

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow …well done you …and the owl for loving the new home. What a brilliant recycling job…and the card, well what can I say… 🙂


  6. Patience… and reward!


  7. Wow! how exciting and what a great reward for your creative reuse and effort. Your story of the straw being chucked out reminds me of my father’s efforts to make the possums which live in his ‘atelier’ more comfortable. They sleep on top of his grinding disks so he thought he’d add a sheepskin buffer pad, but they rejected it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved that! It’s amazing how we all get used to our own way of living, even if it isn’t the most comfortable.
      I do like recycling items. You should see Amelia’s tortoise house, which I made from an old Singer sawing machine cabinet!


  8. Nice story, may your owl(s) prosper.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent – well done. I’ve been trying to see a barn owl where I work for years. They are about, just not when I am. I have a tawny owl in the garden and I see him most days. But will he and a mate use the nest box I made for them. Will they heck. Hope you get owlets soon. Dave

    Liked by 1 person

  10. How wonderful for you and the owl. I do hope there is a mate so we can look forward to seeing them again.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That’s a great idea and I’m glad it worked! I hope you’ll see a family of owlets soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Kourosh,
    What a lovely discovery… both the Barn Owl and the book…
    but please beware…
    Eric Hosking lost an eye in the late 30′ to an owl’s claw when trying to photograph the owl on its nest…
    he’d climbed up to do just what you have done and was attacked without warning.

    Knowing that I am very cautious!
    Three years ago we erected the “oil derrick” on the far side of our meadow…
    on top of the derrick is a “Barn Owl” box….
    but two years ago we lost our barn owl…
    we last saw him vanishing down a buzzard’s neck…
    all that was left were his feet and a few primaries…
    that was the year of the vole “crash” and he’d been around for some six years at least [we think he was a male?]…
    I have a wonderful collection of pellets to look at…

    We lived in hope when we had a pair around for a few weeks… but they moved on…
    then we heard the most amazing noise from inside our hangar… a trilling noise… we had difficulty identifying it, but eventually nailed it down to a rarely heard Tawny call.
    We began to hear it more and more… Pauline managed to record it… and other calls. We think that they liked the acoustics… but they have been calling around here now for several months… including a trilling duet…
    then Pauline was out on an owl survey last Sunday night…
    and as I drove to fetch her a Tawny flew across ahead of me…
    on a direct bearing for the far side of our meadow…
    we now have a trail camera… a Ltl Acorn 6210… and I set it up…
    initially as a time-lapse every thirty seconds… on infra-red…
    the binos had shown me that the entrance doorway is now somewhat ‘polished’.

    2450 photographs to look through… but in picture five there was a glow from an eye…
    that kept me going… then another in a different position….
    I couldn’t see the shape…. sometimes the doorway was blocked…
    then about 1000+ in… more eyes…
    then eyes straight towards the camera…
    I was beginning to flag at this point…
    then a shape at the side of the box, at the edge of the platform…
    and the next frame… an owl shape and eyes… blurred… as it flew past the camera.

    The following night I set it up on video… and got one shot [in daylight] of the box…
    Thursday night I reset the camera… yes, I’d got it all wrong the night before…
    but only four shots on Thursday… but the first was a clear shot of a Tawny on the landing platform…
    then jumping up to the doorway and climbing in.

    But nothing else triggered it that night… I think I was just too far from the platform…
    it may well have triggered it by coming in low…
    last night… I didn’t get a sossij… it was too windy and some ash keys near the box kept triggering it during the day and the card was full by mid-afternoon…
    tonight I have moved the camera even closer… with an angle that I hope misses the ask keys triggering it… and I have set the timer so that it only takes videos from 8pm… ten minutes before the shot of it entering… I hope it is a good timekeeper.
    If we have got nesting Tawnies, they obviously cannot read what it says on the plaque by the door!!… “Barn Owl Box”.

    So I think it is wonderful that you have at the very least a roosting Barn Owl….
    and you may well be right about a possible nest in there next year…
    last year was a very good recovery year for Barn Owls….
    but not for the potager… too many voles….
    the difficult thing now is going to be….
    to totally ignoring that trunk and its contents for a whole year…
    or get yourselves a trail camera!
    Thanks for posting your discovery!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your word of caution and thanks for sharing your story. I generally do not like disturbing wild animals.
      I also fancy installing a camera in our atelier. May be someone will buy it for me for Christmas (?!?) – K

      Liked by 1 person

      • K…I hope the hint is taken….
        but, for your next project…
        and an excuse to vide-grenier like crazy…
        how about a Little Owl box….
        you need a French kitchen baguette box…
        one with a hinged lid and a little grill/columnular opening and a curtain at the front near the top….
        it is to be hung horizontally in a tree near the bottom of your garden…
        you drill/cut a nine centimetre’ish hole in the base…
        and make a square nest box to fit the opening at the front…
        put a stainless steel or brass screw through the front of the lid to hold it closed….
        but to allow you to open it for the occasional clean every few years.
        Hang it as described and wait…

        Liked by 1 person

  13. What a great nest box. Barn owls are so rare here I’d be over the moon just to see one much less have one living next door.


    • They are beautiful creatures. We are so lucky to have so many variety of birds in or garden. When Amelia and I moved to France we hardly saw any birds. Now there are days that I count more than 30 at a given time on our patio. But owls are special, we more often hear them rather than see them. But this little fellow I see regularly flying in and out. – K

      Liked by 1 person

  14. A wonderful story, with some interesting comments. It inspires me to rig up a box in our barn -we’ve certainly had owls in there occasionally, maybe a box would focus their interest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment. The birds are quite choosy. Over the years I have not had much success with bird boxes usually. They seem to choose the most peculiar spots to lay eggs and raise their chicks. But we all try our best giving them a hand whenever we can. – K


  15. That’s a colorful name for a barn owl: effraie des clochers. Did you know that the French verb effrayer is the source of the English word afraid.

    Good for you for climbing up and peeking (with your camera) into the box.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. How creative and wonderful that a beautiful barn owl has taken up residence. I hope she will have a family, if it is a she.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Is It Spring yet? | a french garden

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