To determine whether Eastern Screech-Owls (Megascops asio; hereafter “screech-owl”) typically guard or avoid food items cached within cavities, we conducted an experiment involving the addition of dead mice to paired roosting boxes during the nonbreeding season. Multiple factors may influence the tendency of a screech-owl to cache food: the value of the item(s), the likelihood of pilferage, the degree to which cached carcasses attract predators, and the availability of alternative cavities for roosting and/or caching. We hypothesized that providing roosting screech-owls with paired cavities (nest boxes) and a standardized windfall of food could reveal important information about food-caching behavior in this species. Twice per month over the course of a winter, we provided roosting owls with either 200 g of frozen mice or nothing on day 1 of the experiment. On day 2, we visited all box pairs occupied on day 1 and determined whether the experimental and control owls remained in the original box, shifted to the adjacent box, or roosted elsewhere. We also noted whether the experimental owls sought to scatter-hoard the mice by moving some into the adjacent box. We found that screech-owls neither guard nor avoid prey in roosting cavities: owls provided with mice shifted roost sites at the same frequency as owls not provided with mice. Additionally, we found no evidence that screech-owls scatter-hoard prey into an adjacent cavity when provided with a windfall of food.
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Vol. 52 • No. 2