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Title: Barking Owl Diet in the Pilliga Forests of Northern New South Wales
Contributor(s): Stanton, Matthew (author); Ford, Hugh (supervisor); Debus, Stephen JS (supervisor); Kavanagh, Rodney (supervisor)
Conferred Date: 2011
Copyright Date: 2011
Open Access: Yes
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Abstract: The Barking Owl 'Ninox connivens' population in the Pilliga forests of northern New South Wales is the largest known in southern Australia. Breeding pairs in this population occupy large home-ranges across less than half of the forest. In this thesis, I quantify the diet of Barking Owls in the Pilliga. I consider a number of hypotheses that could explain the species' large home ranges and restricted distribution, particularly those that are related to prey availability. This is the first diet study of a Barking Owl population to incorporate data from many territories over several years and all seasons of the year. Radio-tracking of nine owls provided the opportunity to begin a substantial collection of prey remains (regurgitated pellets, food debris and faecal material). Ultimately, the collection period spanned 2003 - 2009, with prey remains from 19 territories in the Pilliga and one territory in a small forest to the south near Dubbo. In total, 1546 regurgitated pellets and 315 faecal samples were collected and examined. Foraging observations improved the understanding of the results. Barking Owls in the Pilliga forests preyed on most species of diurnal and nocturnal birds, as well as Sugar Gliders, bats and insects, with a few items being taken from the ground. Prey size ranged from 0.3 gram insects to ~800 gram cockatoos and mammals, a similar size to the owls. Most prey were native animals in contrast to some other studies. The proportions of consumed prey, as determined by pellet analysis, were compared with available prey, as determined by bird counts, spotlight surveys, small mammal trapping, bat surveys and insect netting. Prey items from all prey groups were available from all sampled areas of the Pilliga. Barking Owls distribution was positively associated with prey availability: significantly with the biomass of birds and with flying insect numbers. Mammal groups were not significantly different but showed the same positive trend. Spatial availability of total prey biomass offered a good explanation for the distribution of Barking Owls within the Pilliga forests. Crucial food resources, particularly available biomass of diurnal birds and nocturnally active prey, may limit the population density and distribution of owls in what appears to be marginal rather than prime habitat. Land cleared for agriculture, because of its higher productivity, may have previously supported higher densities of Barking Owls when wooded.
Publication Type: Thesis Masters Research
Field of Research Codes: 060308 Life Histories
Rights Statement: Copyright 2011 - Matthew Stanton
HERDC Category Description: T1 Thesis - Masters Degree by Research
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