Learning and hunting success of burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) during pre-release live-prey training in the Manitoba burrowing owl recovery program
Keywords:burrowing owl, reintroduction biology, live-prey, conservation, training, animal behaviour
Reintroduction biology is a new and expanding discipline for which experimental study is critical to progress. We evaluated training methods for live-prey capture as part of a breeding and reintroduction project for the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), an iconic prairie species endangered throughout Canada. Handling of owls prior to training sessions had a negative effect on the proportion of mice depredated. Owl experience exerted a measurable effect on depredation, suggesting that there is a learned component to hunting behaviour; however, this effect was not statistically significant. Overall, the proportion of mice depredated was low, probably because the training session environment presented additional challenges to the owls that would not occur in nature. In response to these findings, changes were made to training protocols the following year and, anecdotally, these changes resulted in a marked increase in the proportion of mice depredated. Mouse colour and owl sex had no effect on depredation.
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