Mexican Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis lucida) are common in older forests within their range but also persist in many areas burned by wildfire and may selectively forage in these areas. One hypothesis explaining this pattern postulates that prey abundance increases in burned areas following wildfire. We observed movement to wintering areas within areas burned by wildfire by four radio-marked Mexican Spotted Owls in the Sacramento Mountains, New Mexico. These movements occurred during the winters of 2004–2005 and 2005–2006, with some owls migrating in both winters and others in only one. Wintering areas of these owls occurred within the perimeters of two wildfires that burned in May 2000 and April 2002, respectively. We estimated relative prey abundance and biomass during December 2006 within paired burned wintering areas and nest core areas used by these owls. Species richness and relative abundance of small mammals were greater in the burned wintering areas than in the associated nest core areas for all four owls, and estimated prey biomass ranged from 2–6 times greater in burned wintering areas relative to the paired nest core areas. Burned wintering areas used by these owls were similar in elevation to their nest core areas, and likely experienced similar weather conditions during winter. These results suggest that wintering owls moved to areas with greater food resources, rather than to areas with milder weather. They further suggest that relative prey abundance was greater in burned wintering areas than in the nest core areas >5 years post-fire, and that these burned wintering areas provided important habitat for Mexican Spotted Owls in our study area during an energetically stressful season.
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