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Owls May Use Faeces and Prey Feathers to Signal Current Reproduction

AuthorsPenteriani, Vincenzo ; Delgado, María del Mar
Issue Date19-Aug-2008
PublisherPublic Library of Science
CitationPLoS ONE 3(8): e3014
Abstract[Background] Many animals communicate by marking focal elements of their home range with different kinds of materials. Visual signaling has been demonstrated to play a previously unrecognized role in the intraspecific communication of eagle owls (Bubo bubo), in both territorial and parent-offspring contexts. Visual signals may play a role in a variety of circumstances in this crepuscular and nocturnal species.
[Methodology/Principal Findings] Here, we report that a large amount of extremely visible white faeces and prey feathers appear during the breeding season on posts and plucking sites in proximity to the nest, potentially representing a way for eagle owls to mark their territory. We present descriptive and experimental evidence showing that faeces and prey remains could act as previously unrecognized visual signals in a nocturnal avian predator. This novel signaling behavior could indicate the owls' current reproductive status to potential intruders, such as other territorial owls or non-breeding floaters. Faeces and prey feather markings may also advertise an owl's reproductive status or function in mate-mate communication.
[Conclusions/Significance] We speculate that faeces marks and plucking may represent an overlooked but widespread method for communicating current reproduction to conspecifics. Such marking behavior may be common in birds, and we may now be exploring other questions and mechanisms in territoriality.
Description6 pages, 10 (supplementary) figures.-- Supplementary figures: S1. Pictures showing details of eagle owl faecal markings. 2. To increase the conspicuousness of faecal signaling, owls need to mark the most prominent rock surfaces. 3. An example of the spatial distribution of faecal markings within an eagle owl's home range. 4. Temporal pattern of the appearance of defecation and plucking sites, which generally become visible during the pre-laying season, and remain visible up until the fledgling period. 5. Some examples of preferential use of darkest substrates for eagle owl faecal marking. 6. Both faecal marks and plucking sites are located in positions with increased conspicuousness, such as dominant places and the highest points of valley slopes. Some marks also appear at the entrance of the valley in which the nest is located. 7. Examples of faecal marks being refreshed after we experimentally obscured them with spray paint. Generally, the eagle owls returned to re-mark within one to two nights of the experimental covering. In several cases, faeces were scattered at exactly the same position that had been previously marked. 8. Pictures showing the significant contrast between the bright feathers and the dark surface of the plucking site. All the prey species on plucking sites were birds with highly visible feathers. 9. Some faecal marks were only visible from the nest, not the surroundings. In such a context, they could act to signal reproductive status between the male and female of the breeding pair. 10. In the absence of dominant posts, eagle owls use different locations to signal their breeding status, such as trunks, fences, poles and human structures. Faecal marks and plucking sites could also function as visual signals in other avian species, such as the Little Owl, Athene noctua.
ISSN1932-6203 (Online)
Appears in Collections:(EBD) Artículos
Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
owls.pdfFull-text paper96,11 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S1.pdfFig. S1: Patterns of defecation sites and faecal marks1,27 MBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S2.pdfFig. S2: Owl positions on faecal posts276,81 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S3.pdfFig. S3: Spatial distribution of faecal markings69,13 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S4.pdfFig. S4: Temporal pattern of the appearance of defecation sites298,33 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S5.pdfFig. S5: Patterns of faecal marks on dark substrates338,4 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S6.pdfFig. S6: Marking is done on strategic positions5,67 MBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S7.pdfFig. S7: Refreshing of faecal marks866,07 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S8.pdfFig. S8: Features of plucking sites576,49 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S9.pdfFig. S9: Faecal marks and mate-mate communication233,15 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
Fig_S10.pdfFig. S10: Additional marking posts and other marking bird species279,61 kBAdobe PDFThumbnail
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