Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 158, Issue 4, pp 1001–1012 | Cite as

Nocturnal, diurnal and bimodal patterns of locomotion, sibling interactions and sleep in nestling Barn Owls

  • Madeleine F. ScribaEmail author
  • Amélie N. Dreiss
  • Isabelle Henry
  • Paul Béziers
  • Charlène Ruppli
  • Estelle Ifrid
  • Pauline Ducouret
  • Arnaud Da Silva
  • Baudouin des Monstiers
  • Alexei L. Vyssotski
  • Niels C. Rattenborg
  • Alexandre Roulin
Original Article


Temporal variation in physical activity is mainly determined by the day–night cycle. While this may be true for diurnal species whose vision at night is often poor, the situation might be more complex in nocturnal animals as many such species can see both in the dark and in the daylight. We examined in Barn Owl (Tyto alba) nestlings whether temporal variation of behavioural activities and sleep is shaped by parental feeding visits occurring during the first part of the night and the extent to which they also occur during daylight hours. We measured several behaviours in 280 individuals from 90 broods recorded in 4 years. Parental feeding visits progressively declined in frequency from the beginning to the end of the night, and a number of offspring behaviours followed the same pattern of activity (feeding, vocalization and self-preening). Surprisingly, nestlings were awake not only at sunset, but also at sunrise. Several behaviours (locomotion, wing flapping and sibling interactions, such as pecking and allopreening among nestlings) showed peaks of activity at sunset and sunrise, suggesting that they were performed for other reasons than to interact with parents. Allopreening was performed more often during the day than at night. We conclude that although adult Barn Owls are nocturnal, nestlings display a complex temporal pattern of activity that is governed not only by feeding but also by other unknown factors.


Barn Owl Behaviour Bimodality Diel organization Ontogeny Sleep 


Nächtliche, tägliche und bimodale Muster der Lokomotion, der Interaktionen mit Geschwistern und des Schlafs bei Schleiereulennestlingen

Der zeitliche Verlauf der körperlichen Aktivität wird hauptsächlich vom Tag-Nacht-Rhythmus bestimmt. Besonders tagaktive Arten sind oft nicht in der Lage nachts zu sehen, während nachtaktive Arten sowohl am Tag als auch nachts sehen können. Wir untersuchten an Schleiereulennestlingen (Tyto alba), ob zeitliche Variation von Verhalten und Gehirnaktivität von den elterlichen Besuchen in der ersten Hälfte der Nacht abhängen und ob Aktivitäten während des Tages ausgeführt werden. Wir bestimmten Verhaltensweisen von 280 Individuen aus 90 Bruten über vier Jahre. Elterliche Fütterungsbesuche nahmen über die Nacht stetig in der Frequenz ab, und einige der Verhaltensweisen der Nestlinge folgten diesem Muster (Fressen, Rufen und Putzen). Erstaunlicherweise waren Nestlinge nicht nur bei Sonnenuntergang wach, sondern auch bei Sonnenaufgang. Einige Verhaltensweisen (Lokomotion, Flügel schlagen und Interaktionen mit Geschwistern wie Picken und gegenseitiges Putzen) zeigten hohe Aktivität bei Sonnenuntergang und –aufgang, was darauf hindeutet, dass sie aus anderen Gründen ausgeführt wurden als mit den Eltern zu interagieren. Gegenseitiges Putzen wurde tagsüber öfter durchgeführt als nachts. Zusammenfassend ist zu sagen, dass Schleiereulen zwar nachtaktiv sind, Nestlinge aber ein komplexes Aktivitätsmuster zeigen, das durch die elterliche Fütterung vorgegeben ist, aber auch durch weitere, noch unbekannte Faktoren bestimmt ist.



The research was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Société Académique Vaudoise and the Max Planck Society. The experiments comply with the current laws of Switzerland.

Author contributions

MFS, AD, IH, PB, CR, PD collected data. ALV contributed the neurologger. EI, ADS, BDM analysed video recordings. MFS, AD, NCR, AR analyzed data. MFS, NCR, AR wrote the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All experiments were performed under the legal authorization of the Veterinary Office (Vaud Canton, Switzerland). All procedures performed in the studies were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution at which these studies were conducted.

Supplementary material

10336_2017_1458_MOESM1_ESM.docx (75 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 1 Sleep-wakefulness in the field in relation to sunrise and sunset in Barn Owl nestlings. Mean hourly standardized values (± SE) are given in relation to sunrise and sunset as indicated by 0 (i.e. up to 4 hours before and 4 hours after these time points, respectively). Shaded area Dark period. Proportion of time spent awake (filled triangles), in non-REM sleep (open circles) and in REM sleep (open squares) in 29 broods in 2011 is shown. (DOCX 74 kb)


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Madeleine F. Scriba
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Amélie N. Dreiss
    • 1
  • Isabelle Henry
    • 1
  • Paul Béziers
    • 1
  • Charlène Ruppli
    • 1
  • Estelle Ifrid
    • 1
  • Pauline Ducouret
    • 1
  • Arnaud Da Silva
    • 1
    • 3
  • Baudouin des Monstiers
    • 1
  • Alexei L. Vyssotski
    • 4
  • Niels C. Rattenborg
    • 2
  • Alexandre Roulin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Avian Sleep GroupMax Planck Institute for OrnithologySeewiesenGermany
  3. 3.Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary GeneticsMax-Planck Institute for OrnithologySeewiesenGermany
  4. 4.Institute of NeuroinformaticsUniversity of Zürich and ETH ZürichZürichSwitzerland

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