How an individual responds during a predator/prey interaction could mean the difference between life and death, especially when there are young involved. Avian species show defense mechanisms towards predators that vary in severity depending on a multitude of factors such as: age of young, threat level, and predator size. In addition to physical defense tactics, animals also incorporate vocalizations into predator defense; that is, alarm calls in response to predators are characteristic of many species. Because they are especially vulnerable to nest predators, natural selection likely has shaped behavior in ground nesting birds to enhance their ability to escape detection or to defend their nests once detected. Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) nest beneath the ground in abandoned mammal burrows, so nest predation or lack thereof often determines their reproductive success. Burrowing owls defend nests by altering their posture, flight, aggression, and vocal displays, including uttering alarm calls.
My research will focus on predation, nest defense, and communication in Western Burrowing Owls within the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in southwestern Idaho to document the characteristics of burrowing owl nest defense and alarm calling.