Factors affecting spontaneous vocal activity of Tawny Owls Strix aluco and implications for surveying large areas

  • October 15, 2018
  • by Zuberogoitia, I., Burgos, G., González‐Oreja, J. A., Morant, J., Martínez, J. E., & Zabala Albizua, J.

To use vocalizations properly for the estimation of owl population size, it is important to identify how environmental factors affect owl calling behaviour. Here, we analyse how intrinsic and extrinsic factors modify the vocal activity of Tawny Owls Strix aluco in two areas of northern Spain. From March 2013 to May 2015, we radiotracked 20 Tawny Owls and also undertook a systematic survey in which we collected data on spontaneous vocal activity (hoot/call) of the tagged owls, plus their mates and neighbours (36 untagged owls). After 223 nights in Valle de Mena and 224 in Duranguesado we obtained a total of 8791 records of vocal activity. The annual proportion of surveys on which an owl called was 6.3% and did not differ between the study areas. Vocal activity of Tawny Owls varied with sex, annual cycle stage and weather. Male owls were significantly more vocal than females year‐round, and vocal activity peaked during the incubation and post‐breeding periods. Wind and rain adversely affected vocal activity of both sexes throughout the year. Tagged owls were detected more often than untagged owls, which we interpret as an observer effect because the systematic survey ensured that short distances to tagged owls increased the probability of detecting vocal activity. In fact, 2.8% of variation in vocal activity was due to detectability differences between tagged and untagged owls. We conclude that if fieldwork is carried out during the optimum period of the year for vocal detection (i.e. incubation, which in our case was around mid‐April), and under good weather conditions (dry and calm nights), censuses based on spontaneous vocal activity would detect only approximately 12% of the true Tawny Owl population.

PUBLICATION AVAILABLE AT: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ibi.12684