Spatial ecology and habitat selection of Little Owl Athene noctua during the breeding season in Central European farmland

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2012
Journal:Bird Conservation International
Date Published:2012
ISBN Number:0959-2709
Keywords:Athene, Athene noctua, Noctua, Strigidae
Abstract:Summary Information on habitat requirements and spatial ecology is vital in conservation strategies and management of particular species. Little Owl Athene noctua is a highly threatened owl species whose populations have significantly decreased or are locally extinct in many European countries. In this study we report on spatial ecology and habitat selection of Little Owls during their breeding season in an agricultural landscape and discuss key management actions for its conservation. The mean home range size of radio-tracked Little Owls, determined by the kernel method, was 0.94 ha (SD = 0.95, 0.24–2.72 ha) and 4.30 ha (SD = 3.75, 0.88–11.70 ha) for 50% and 95% home range, respectively. The smallest home ranges were recorded in April–June (incubation and nesting period) with a significant increase in July–August (fledging season). The most important foraging habitat during the entire breeding season was grassland (especially pastures) reaching 90% for all locations. Vegetation height and cover were the main factors determining habitat selection: Little Owls significantly preferred sparse and short sward vegetation patches that enabled hunting of ground-dwelling prey. Conservation efforts for Little Owls should focus on the active management of prey-rich grassland habitats in the vicinity of breeding sites.
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith