The timing of hunting in short-eared owls (Asio flammeus) in relation to the activity patterns of Orkney voles (Microtus arvalis orcadensis)

P Reynolds, M L Gorman

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    Using radio-telemetry, short-term cycles of activity, with a period of about 3 h, were detected in Orkney voles Microtus arvalis orcadensis and in one short-eared owl Asio flammeus, their principal predator. Visual observations showed that owls from four adjacent nests had similar activity patterns. These cycles tended to be synchronous both within and between the two species. Short-eared owls thus appeared to be foraging optimally by timing their hunting to coincide with peaks in vole activity, i.e. at times of maximum potential yield. The extent of diurnal activity in short-eared owls varied seasonally. Daytime activity was conspicuous for only a short period in spring and early summer. Otherwise owls were almost exclusively nocturnal. These seasonal changes in activity were probably a response to variations in vole diurnality, vole population size and daylength. Harassment and kleptoparasitism may have been additional influences that interacted with these seasonal factors to determine the extent of preferred nocturnal hunting. In addition, it is possible that the energetic constraints of breeding may force owls to hunt during daylight. Were males only to hunt at night then they may not be able to provide enough food for their mate and young at a time when nights are short and vole populations ape only starting to increase.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)371-379
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Zoology
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


    • Asio flammeus
    • Microtus arvalis orcadensis
    • activity patterns
    • hunting
    • prey

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