Owls Listen For a Safe Neighborhood
by Jane J. Lee
For humans, eavesdropping on your neighbors is considered rude. But for owls raising a family, it’s essential. Researchers in Spain have found that some owls take the alarm calls of other owl species into account before deciding where to nest. The birds aren’t the only animals known to listen in on their neighbors, but examining how animals use alarm calls to decide on the best areas to raise young hasn’t been done before.
Many animals use alarm calls to alert friends and family of impending danger. But in some situations, alarm calls from a member of another species can be more informative than those from a member of your own species, says Daniel Blumstein, a behavioral ecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the new research. He points to studies that demonstrate that different species, such as mule deer and yellow-bellied marmots, are more likely to listen to one another if they have the same predators.
Since little owls (Athene noctua) and scops owls (Otus scops) breed in the same area of southeastern Spain and share similar resources, biologist Deseada Parejo of the Spanish National Council for Research in Almeria, Spain, wanted to find out whether they relied on alarm calls to help pick breeding sites. The researchers used little owl calls because the birds are supposedly better informed about habitat quality since they are year-round residents of the study area…
(read more: Science NOW)
(image: adult Scops Owl, Nadia Silva; Little Owl nestlings, Jesús M. Avilés (inset))