Winter diets of the western Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) are little known. We determined the diet of western Burrowing Owls wintering in southern Texas by analyzing the contents of 182 pellets collected over four winters (1999–2000, 2001–2002, 2002–2003, and 2003–2004) in three habitat types (agricultural, mainland grassland, and barrier island). Remains of a total of 7476 prey items were recovered, 98% of which were arthropods. Gryllidae (crickets) formed the largest component (50%) of the prey, followed by lepidopteran larvae (13%), beetles (8%), spiders (7%), and earwigs (6%). Although vertebrates, primarily small mammals and birds, represented only 2% of prey items by number, they represented most (71%) of the biomass. Northern pygmy mice (Baiomys taylori) and fulvous harvest mice (Reithrodontomys fulvescens) were the two most frequently consumed vertebrate species. In all habitats, arthropods, especially orthopterans, were the primary prey item by number, whereas vertebrates, primarily small mammals, were the most important by biomass. Greater consumption of arthropods by Burrowing Owls in agricultural areas may be a factor contributing to owl use of these highly altered environments.
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Vol. 41 • No. 4