A variety of factors influence prey selection by predators. Because Barn Owls (Tyto alba) and Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) differ in size and foraging tactics, we expected differential predation on small mammal prey. We hypothesized that the Barn Owl, an active predator, would prey on smaller and younger individuals than the Burrowing Owl, a sit-and-wait predator. We used pellet analyses to evaluate selection of small mammals by the two owls in relation to prey species, age, and size at the Ecological Station of Itirapina, state of São Paulo, in southeastern Brazil. Small mammals constituted most of the prey individuals and biomass in the diet of Barn Owls. Although Burrowing Owls consumed a wider range of taxa, small mammals represented one-third of all biomass consumed. With respect to small mammals, Barn Owls foraged selectively relative to prey species, size, and age. Burrowing Owls foraged opportunistically relative to prey species, but selectively relative to prey size and age. Barn Owls selected smaller and younger (juvenile and subadult) individuals of the delicate vesper mouse (Calomys tener) and Burrowing Owls preyed more on larger and older (subadult only) individuals. Morphology and behavior of both prey and predators may explain this differential predation. Our data suggest that the active predator feeds on smaller and younger prey and the sit-and-wait predator took relatively larger and older prey.
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Vol. 42 • No. 4