According to basic ecological principle, species that share the same niche do not occupy the same environment for a long time, and sympatry of two or more such species provides an interesting field for the analysis of their trophic niche differentiation. To examine the potential differences in the dimensions of the trophic niche we studied the diet of three sympatric avian predators that prey on colonial Microtus rodents. The study area in central Poland is located in an agricultural landscape, composed of crop fields, as well as meadows and pastures located within a small river valley. The pellets of long-eared owl (Asio otus), barn owl (Tyto alba) and kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) were collected from the 750 m2 study site including church building and its surrounding in the spring of 2016 and 2017. The analysis of pellets provided data on a total of 4128 vertebrate prey individuals (1914 from barn owl, 1749 from long-eared owl, and 465 from kestrel). The most important prey group of all three predators were small mammals (90%, 14 species) and the most frequently preyed species was Microtus arvalis (making up 72% of vertebrate prey of long-eared owl, 59% of kestrel and 53% of barn owl). Despite the general similarity in the diet composition, there were differences in the contribution of several prey species (e.g. Soricomorpha, M. arvalis, Mus musculus, Rattus norvegicus, and Apodemus spp.) and the diversity of the diet between the predators. We conclude that the trophic niches of the studied sympatric species differ in several dimensions, including diel activity, prey size and taxon-specific feeding preferences.
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Vol. 67 • No. 4