Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 477–488 | Cite as

A specialist in the city: the diet of barn owls along a rural to urban gradient

  • Sofi Hindmarch
  • John E. Elliott


We investigated the variations in the diets of barn owls (Tyto alba) along a rural to urban gradient in the Lower Fraser Valley of southwestern British Columbia, Canada. Our objectives were to determine the food preferences of barn owls in different habitat types and to assess both seasonal and annual variations in their diets. In particular, given the increased incidences and concentrations of second generation anticoagulant rodenticide (SGAR) residues in barn owls, we were interested in determining whether there was any relationship between the degree of urbanization surrounding their nest/roost sites and the proportion of commensal rodents (Rattus norvegicus, Rattus rattus, Mus musculus) in their diet. In total, 8,941 individual prey remains were identified. The proportion of rats consumed increased significantly with the amount of urbanization within home ranges. However, voles (primarily field voles, Microtus townsendii) were the main prey item for all sites irrespective of surrounding land use within home ranges. Shrews were the second most consumed prey species (10.8 ± 8 %), and were found predominantly in the diet of barn owls nesting in more rural landscapes. The dominance of field voles in the diet was also reflected in the food-niche breadth, which was consistently low for all sites across the rural to urban gradient. Interestingly, barn owls were found nesting in highly urban environments (66–95 % urbanization), where bait stations containing SGARs were regularly used. This, combined with the increased consumption of rats in more urban environments, illustrates why the SGAR exposure rate in barn owls is substantial and rising.


Barn owl Diet Rodenticide Rural–urban gradient 



We are most grateful to Lindsay Davidson for her help searching for barn owl pellets and for spending many hours in the lab dissecting owl pellets and identifying prey species. We are most grateful to private and commercial landowners for giving us access and allowing us to monitor barn owls on their properties and collect barn owl pellets. Without their cooperation and kindness this research would not have been possible. We wish to thank the two independent reviewers for their efforts reviewing this manuscript. Their feedback has resulted in a better manuscript. Funding for this research was provided to John Elliott by the Pesticide Science Fund of Environment Canada.


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Copyright information

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LangleyCanada
  2. 2.Environment Canada, Science and Technology BranchDeltaCanada

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