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Preference of Prey Size and Profitability in Barn Owls Tyto Alba Guttata

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Barn owls of the subspecies Tyto alba guttata which had been bred in captivity, and which had experience with prey, were examined for preferences in prey size (weight) under experimental conditions. They were offered a choice of larger and smaller prey of three weight classes (3/10 g; 10/40 g; 40/160 g) either active or inactive (laboratory mice, Mus musculus; laboratory rats, Rattus norvegicus). The frequency of choices of smaller prey increased significantly from the lowest to the highest weight class, and from inactive to active prey. Most frequently, the owls selected prey of 10 g and 40 g. It was shown that both prey size and activity had an equal influence on the decisions. Predictions were made as to which particular prey size a barn owl was going to choose. With increasing prey weight, the frequency of interrupted prey catching acts and conflict behaviour (mantling, feather ruffling) towards the prey, increased. The upper weight for acceptable active rats was about 80 g. One male, which had to supply his female and nestlings with food, subdued somewhat larger prey. Although relative profitability (net nutritive value/unit of time), calculated from the duration of handling prey, decreased with increasing prey weight, the barn owls chose the larger prey under certain conditions. I discuss a strategy which compromises time and energy costs with the search and subduction of the item.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology, University of Vienna, 1090 Wien, Althanstr. 14, Austria


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