Scavenging is an important ecological function that increases individual fitness and transfers energy between trophic levels. Scavenging by owls has been documented opportunistically through direct observations, camera trapping, and pellet analyses, but it is unknown how frequent or widespread the behavior is. We documented three new scavenging events from North America and Europe, and also performed a systematic literature review of the reports documenting scavenging by owls. The number of such reports was similar in each decade from the 1970s to the 2000s, but the decade of the 2010s had more reports than all previous decades combined. Owls scavenged primarily on mammals (81%), followed by birds (16%) and reptiles (3%); almost half (47%) of carrion scavenged were Artiodactyla (hoofed mammals) and most of the species scavenged were larger than the feeding owl. Most reports documenting scavenging by owls were from either Europe (n=14) or North America (n=11), with few reports from Asia (n=2), South America (n =2), or Australia (n=1), and none from Africa. The most frequent type of report was direct observations (n= 14), followed by camera trapping (n=9) and pellet analyses (n=6). Our review indicates that scavenging is a widespread behavior among owl species, but most observations were opportunistic, suggesting that additional incidents of scavenging by owls are likely unobserved. Further research is needed to establish the frequency of scavenging by owls and the effects that scavenging may have on owl populations and scavenging communities.
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Vol. 53 • No. 4