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Dietary Distinctive Features of Tawny Owl Strix aluco (Linn 1758) and Barn Owl Tyto alba (Scopoli 1759) in Gardens of Algerian Sahel El Harrach Jardin D'essai Du Hamma.

Byline: Saida Tergou Mohamed Boukhemza Faiza Marniche Amel Milla and Salaheddine Doumandji

Abstract

Diet of tawny owl Strix aluco was studied in gardens of National Agronomical Institute of El Harrach during 1996 and 1997 and that of barn owl Tyto alba in Jardin d'Essai of Hamma in 1997. In total 601 regurgitated pellets 527 of tawny owl and 74 of barn owl were analyzed. Five types of prey items included: arthropods amphibians reptiles birds and small mammals. Birds were consumed the most (37.8%) by tawny owl and the amphibians (37.5%) by the barn owl. Common wall gecko or moorish gecko. Tarentola mauritanica (16.8%) was the most frequently preyed by tawny owl and Mediterranean painted frog Discoglosssus pictus (34.9%) by barn owl.

Key words: Tawny owl Strix aluco barn owl Tyto alba regurgitated pellets.

INTRODUCTION

Diet of birds of prey has been extensively investigated throughout Europe. Diet of barn owl Tyto alba (Scopoli; 1769) and tawny owl Strix aluco Linn. has been studied in the wild by Guerin (1932) Baudvin (1983) Henry and Perthuis (1986) Sorgo (1992). Diet of barn owl has been the object of several studies throughout the world including Algeria viz. Gubany et al. (1992) in western Nebraska; Sahores and Trejo (2004) near Patagonia (Argentine); Littles et al. (2007) in South of Texas and Platt et al. (2009) in North of Belize Central America. In Algeria diet of barn owl has been reported by Ochando (1985) Boukhemza (1989) in Plateau de Belfort Baziz et al. (2000 1997 2001) and Sekour et al. (2003 2010) in Les Hauts Plateaux. Rodents are the main prey of barn owl in Ain Oussera (Hamani et al. 1997) as reported by Baziz et al. (2000) from areas near Boughzoul's dam to the extent of 63.8% of the diet and by Benbouzid et al. (2000) and Sekour et al. (2002) from natural reserve of Mergueb to the extent of

85.3% of the diet. Aulagnier et al. (1999) reported

that diet of barn owl in Morocco mostly included

small mammals like Mus spretus Gerbillus campestris and Gerbillus magrebi. In Yahmoll North of Syria the barn owl widely selected small mammals like Microtus socialis and Mus musculus (Shehab and Al Charabi 2006).

Diet of tawny owl has been sparsely studied

(Doumandji et al. 1994 1997; Tergou et al. 1997 Idouhar Saadi 2002). Hamdine et al. (1999) have compared the diets from areas in El Harrach and Boukhalfa. However important aspects remain still under darkness. The present study was aimed at studying the diet of two nocturnal birds of prey in two suburban environments next to each other; and makes an inventory of the micro fauna of the two regions.

Algiers Sahel of the Algiers region (3636' to

3646' N 224' to 3 20'E) comprises of the hills range that separates the western part of Mediterranean Mitidja plain (Glangeaud 1932). The first study site 3643'N and 3 08' E is a park situated in El Harrach region a suburban environment between Plateau de Belfort (Hacen Badi) and the Eastern part of Mitidja. The site is situated at 50 m altitude and spreads about 16 ha including 10 ha area in the Northern part and six (6) acres in the south occupied by pedagogic buildings spread and alternated with green areas including lawns and green areas planted with trees (ash Fraxinus excelsior eucalyptus Eucalyptus

camaldulensis oak zeen Quercus faginea mulberry Morus nigra and M. alba; shrubs (false pepper plant Schinus molle Washingtonia robusta W. filifera and Tipa tipuana) and other herbaceous flora like Tipa tipuana (Fabaceae). Lawns are planted with different kinds of grasses like Stenotaphrum americana. Situated at the far end of Algiers Bay the Jardin d'essai spreads its 30 ha in amphitheatre from immediate surroundings of sea-side to the hill of Bois des Arcades hill 3643'N and 305' E (Carra and Gueit 1952). The altitude varies from 10 to 100 meters up to the woodland located on the hill of Bois des Arcades. The climate of the area is categorized as the sub humid bioclimatic stage with warm winters.

Due to the immediate proximity of the sea to Jardin d'essai of Hamma thermal oscillations are experienced. There is only a little difference between the minimum and maximum temperatures. The dense vegetation cover also reinforces regulatory action of the sea. For that reason temperature does not drop below 2c and rarely rises above 35c except during sirocco weather (Carra and Gueit 1952). The 25 year average rainfall recorded at Algiers from 1913 to 1938 is

762 mm (Seltzer 1946). Rainy season is spread from September to March and the dry season from April to August. Annual average minimum and maximum temperatures are 11C and 26C respectively. The Jardin d'Essai of Hamma is located in sub-humid bioclimatic zone with warm winters. The Jardin d'Essai of Hamma supports luxuriant vegetation in two distinctive parts the English garden and the French garden. The former consists of many diversified structures including plots tracks and sinuous paths with dense vegetation that conceals dense spots but checked with in a discreet manner. Main paths are edged with trees such as Ficus macrophylla Washingtonia filifera Arecastrum (Cocos romanzoffianum and Dracaena draco).

The vegetation cover is less diversified in the French Garden however it is arranged in a regular shape and symmetrical paths. Jardin d'Essai of Hamma has four ornamental lakes it is characterized by succession of plots which are either open semi open or distinctly closed. Seasonal

occupied by residential buildings. The vegetation diversity provides good habitat conditions for all animal groups. Birds of prey belonging to the families Tytonidae and Strigidae to which barn owl and tawny owl respectively belong to at the top of the food chain are attracted to the area where there is plenty of food available.

METHODOLOGY

The regurgitated pellets of tawny owl were recovered from the nests in parasol pine or stone pine Pinus pinea trees that are their day time abode from January 1996 to December 1997. Pellets of barn owl were removed from the ground under groups of Washingtonia filifera shrubs in Jardin d'Essai of Hamma from January 1997 to December

1997 from two main localities viz. i) west of the French Garden near yuccas paths and ii) the experimental nursery in the north of English Garden The regurgitated pellets were stored in paper cornets on which collection date and location were recorded. The pellets of barn owl tapered at one or both the ends. For analysis the pellets were immersed in water in Petri boxes for 10 min. Bones and sclerosis fragments recovered from the pellets were separated by morphological categories. Invertebrate preys were identified by comparing with the invertebrate specimens collected at the Insectariums and collection keys prepared at the

National Agronomic Institute of El-Harrach.

Vertebrate preys were identified by using determination keys prepared by Cuisin (1989) for birds; Grasse and Dekeyser (1955) d'Osborne and Helmy (1980) d'Orsini et al. (1982) d'Aulagnier and Thevenot (1986) and Barreau et al. (1991) for rodents; Aulagnier and Thevenot (1986) for insectivorous rodents and birds. The number of Invertebrate preys was estimated by counting the number of mandibles heads thorax wing-sheaths and cerque. One individual corresponds to the presence of 6 femurs 6 tibias 1 head 1 thorax 2 wing-sheaths 2 mandibles or 2 cerque one on the right the other on the left. Systematically each piece found was measured to evaluate the size of the prey and its biomass. The number of Vertebrate preys was based on the estimates of the fore-crane

long bones were taken as reference. In mammals number of femurs of peroneotibus of humerus of cubitus and of radius was taken. In case of birds femurs tibias tarso-metatarsals humerus cubitus radius and metacarpus were used. Frontal humerus and femur are reference bones for recognition of reptiles. For estimation a frontal bone corresponds to one individual. On the other hand it is essential to have 2 semi-jaws (upper or lower) 2 femurs 2 radius or 2 cubitus to correspond to one individual.

The following diversity indeces were calculated: (1) Relative abundance (RA %) which is the ratio of number of prey-species (IN) to total number of individuals all species taken together (N) (Zaime and Gautier 1989); (2) Biomass or rate in weight (B) which is ratio of individual weight of a determined prey-species (IW) to total weight of various preys (P) (Vivien 1973). Relative biomass brings out prey-species which supply to predator more dietary material. B (%) is biomass and IW is the total weight of prey items

RESULTS

Diet spectrum of tawny owl and barn owl

Analysis of 527 regurgitated pellets of tawny owl allowed identifying 2472 preys of five categories viz. arthropods amphibians reptiles birds and small mammals. tawny owl consumed

1276 preys in 1996. The birds were the most

represented category followed by arthropods small mammals and amphibians (Fig. 1AB).

During 1997 barn owl consumed 272 preys; amphibians being more than one third of preys; Mediterranean painted frog Discoglossus pictus being the most consumed. Rodents were however also consumed almost in the same proportion. Birds were represented in almost one fourth of the prey items. Insects and reptiles were rarely represented (Fig. 1C). The amphibians and hygrophilous rodents such as black Norway rat Rattus norvegicus are found in water bodies shady trees and damp places as the favoured habitats.

Frequency of ingested tawny owl and barn owl preys

Common wall gecko was the most frequent

species in the diet of tawny owl during 1996/1997

(Table I) followed by the sparrow Passer sp. and the amphibian Mediterranean painted frog Discoglossus pictus. Other prey items of significance included black Norway rat and insects like field cricket Gryllus bimaculatus. The barn owl in 1997 consumed MACopyrightditerranACopyrighten painted frog the most followed by field mouse Mus musculus and black Norway rat. Amongst birds European starling Sturnus vulgaris was the most consumed followed by the sparrow and common bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus (Table I).

DISCUSSION

Diet spectrum of tawny owl and barn owl

Diet of tawny owl included five (5) categories of life forms the birds being the most dominant group. Nadji (1997) studied the diet of tawny owl in the region of Staoueli and reported that birds were the most common preys with 78.0% of preys in the diet. Zalewski (1994) reported that the birds constituted 66.6% of the diet of tawny owl in Poland's suburban environment; house sparrow Passer domesticus was the most consumed bird species. Zedrzejewski et al. (1996) reported that during autumn/winter period 1991/1992 the tawny

Table I.- Relative frequency of prey species in the diet of tawny owl and barn owl.

###Tawny owl###Barn owl

Prey species / Predatory species

###Number###RF (%)###B (%)###Number###RF (%)###B (%)

Aranea sp. ind.###24###0.97###0.03###0###0###-

Periplaneta americana###92###3.72###0.11###2###0.76###0.01

Mantis religiosa###4###0.16###-###0###0###-

Iris oratoria###1###0.04###-###0###0###-

Sphodromantis viridis###41###1.66###0.16###0###0###-

Gryllus sp.###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Gryllus bimaculatus###125###5.06###0.11###1###0.37###0.004

Grylidae sp. ind.###1###0.04###-###0###0###-

Orthoptera sp. ind.###1###0.04###-###0###0###-

Ensifera sp. ind.###6###0.24###-###0###0###-

Caelifera sp. ind.###13###0.53###0.01###0###0###-

Tettigonidae sp.###1###0.04###-###0###0###-

Aiolopus strepens###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Aiolopus thalassimus###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Aiolopus sp.###3###0.12###-###0###0###-

Pamphagus elephas###2###0.08###0.01###0###0###-

Eyprepocnemis plorans###7###0.28###0.01###0###0###-

Anacridium aegyptium###4###0.16###0.01###0###0###-

Forficula auricularia###12###0.49###0.01###0###0###-

Tettigia orni###3###0.12###-###0###0###-

Cicadetta montana###50###2.02###0.02###0###0###-

Coleoptera sp.###2###0.08###-###3###1.10###0.004

Carabidae sp. ind.###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Carabus morbillosus###0###0###-###1###0.37###0.006

Pentodon sp.###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Scarabidae sp. Ind.###3###0.12###-###0###0###-

Copris hispanus###2###0.08###-###1###0.37###0.007

Amphimallon scutellare###26###1.05###0.02###0###0###-

Ocypus (Staphylinus) olens###15###0.61###-###0###0###-

Phyllognathus silenus###90###3.64###0.15###2###0.74###0.01

Rhizotrogus sp.###6###0.24###-###0###0###-

Chalcophora mariana###1###0.04###-###0###0###-

Cetonidae sp.###1###0.04###-###0###0###-

Cetonia aurata funeraria###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Silpha sp.###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Cerambycidae sp. ind.###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Hesperophanes sp.###4###0.16###-###0###0###-

Phoracantha semipunctata###4###0.16###-###0###0###-

Vespa germanica###2###0.08###-###0###0###-

Apis will mellifera###1###0.04###-###0###0###-

Noctuidae sp. Ind###31###1.25###0.01###0###0###-

Insecta sp. ind.###1###0.04###-###0###0###-

Hyla meridionalis###5###0.20###0.1###2###0.76###0.18

Discoglossus pictus###228###9.22###10.47###95###36.12###21.5

Bufo mauritanicus###1###0.04###0.12###5###1.90###3.02

Tarentola mauritanica###414###16.75###4.12###2###0.76###0.09

Passer domesticus X P. hispaniolensis###411###16.63###16.98###10###3.80###1.9

Carduelis chloris###114###4.61###5.23###2###0.76###0.41

Sylvia atricapilla###86###3.48###2.37###1###0.37###0.14

Pycnonotus barbatus###91###3.68###9.75###10###3.80###3.20

Turdus merula###10###0.40###1.36###8###3.04###6.15

Phylloscopus sp.###36###1.46###0.39###0###0###-

Parus caerulus###23###0.93###0.42###0###0###-

Erithacus rubecula###13###0.53###0.40###0###0###-

Streptopelia turtur###51###2.06###10.57###0###0###-

Streptopelia senegalensis###35###1.42###7.23###0###0###-

Columbidae sp. ind.###6###0.24###1.24###4###1.47###9.05

Sturnus vulgaris###10###0.40###1.22###27###10.27###14.66

Serinus serinus###25###1.01###0.99###1###0.37###0.02

Apus sp.###28###1.13###1.37###1###0.37###1.33

Hirundo rustica###8###0.33###0.39###0###0###-

Hirundinidae sp. ind.###7###0.28###0.34###0###0###-

Cisticola juncidis###1###0.04###0.01###0###0###-

Aves sp. Ind###9###0.36###0.28###1###0.37###0.23

Rattus norvegicus###128###5.18###19.58###42###15.97###31.7

Rattus rattus###8###0.32###1.22###0###0###-

Mus musculus###79###3.20###2.30###46###17.49###6.6

Mus spretus###22###0.89###0.64###4###1.52###0.57

Pipistrellus kuhlii###25###1.01###0.23###1###0.37###0.04

Crocidura russula###3###0.12###0.05###0###0###-

Total###2472###100###100###272###100###100

owl hunted birds only up to 18% of the diet items. Almost 50% of the bird prey species are considered to be migratory.

Zedrzejewski et al. (1996) also reported that migratory birds like thrush and amphibians like common frog Rana temporaria are the important components of the diet of tawny owl. Bayle (1992) reported the importance of rodents (40.6%) in the diet of tawny owl in Marseille's urban environment. Minor contribution to the diet was made by spiders (Arachnids 1.1%) bats (Chiroptera 1.1%) and insectivores (0.1%). Occasionally the main prey of tawny owl could be the small mammals; the preferred prey species however could be the birds. The barn owls select the small mammals as their main prey; they have to spend a long time on hunting them thus utilizing more energy. Massernin and Handrich (1997) therefore report that energy acquired by predators essentially depends on their diet. Because of the size and strength of barn owl there is a great diversity in its diet (Baudvin 1991). The diet of nocturnal predators varies from species to species and from environment to environment.

Moorish gecko Tarantola mauritanica because of its nocturnal habits easily accessible to tawny owl in Salernes hence a major part of the diet (Cheylan 1971). Our study of 1997 confirmed this observation.

The diet of barn owl is also constituted of 5 categories dominated by amphibians rodents and birds. Several authors have reported rodents as the dominant group in the diet of barn owl in Mediterranean basin; 73% in Spain (Herrera 1974) between 60 and 70% (Cheylan 1976). Saint Girons et al. (1974) determined that the field mouse (81%) and field cricket (8%) were the dominant part of the diet of barn owl at Settat in Morocco. Rifai et al. (1998) found that rodents and notably Tristram's jird Meriones tristrami were the preferred diet of barn owl in Jordan. Birds were however found to be the main diet (59.6%) of barn owl at Casablanca (Saint Girons and Thouy 1978). Likewise Brosset (1956) reported that the birds constituted 89.5% of the diet of barn owl in Morocco. The diet of non- specialized predators is varied hence they have to utilize more energy as hunting of a particular species would be easier and less energy demanding.

The predator has better chances of capture by exact recognition in the environments they frequent and warding of defense technique that the preys possess to escape to predator's actions.

Rates comparison of different categories of

Table II.- Rates comparison of different categories (%) of tawny owl's prey items.

Author Year Spots###Invertebrate###Amphibians###Reptiles###Birds###Mammals

###s

Zalewski (1994)###Poland###8.8###13.2###0###41.6###36.3

Wendland (1984)###Berlin Germany###0###6.3###0###49.6###44.1

Cheylan (1971)###Salernes France###0###0###4###4.5###91.5

Bayle (1992)###Marseille France###10###0###27.2###21.1###41.7

Galeotti et al. (1991)###Norty###Italia###18.5###2.1###0###46.8###32.3

Hamdine et al. (1999)###El Harrach AlgACopyrightria###20.7###12.4###16.9###37.2###12.8

PrACopyrightsent ACopyrighttude (1996-1997)###EL Harrach AlgACopyrightria###24.27###9.46###16.75###38.9###10.72

Table III.- Rates comparison of different categories (%) of bran owl's prey items.

###Author Year - Spots###Invertebrates###Amphibians###Reptiles###Birds###Mammals###Fish

Baudvin (1983)###Bourgogne France###0.2###1.1###0###0.6###98.1###0

Herrera (1974)###Spain###7.6###2.3###0.4###3.2###86.5###0

Aulagnier et al. (1999)###Morocco###10.8###3.1###0.5###11.6###74###0

Goodman (1986)###Egypt###0###0###0###45.4###54.2###0.4

Boukhemza (1989)###El Harrach AlgACopyrightria###1.7 0###3.2###0###9.1###86.1###0

Present study Algeria (1997)###AlgACopyrightria###3.7 0###37.5###0.7###23.9###34.2###0

Jardin d'essai Hamma

tawny owl's prey items and barn owl's prey items obtained by different authors is shown in the Tables II-III.

It is concluded that diet spectrum of nocturnal

predators generally depends on the availability of prey species available in the environment.

Centesimal frequencies of ingested preys by tawny owl and by barn owl

Common wall gecko and house sparrow were the most consumed preys by tawny owl (Table I). Nadji (1997) reported that house sparrow was the most favoured diet of tawny owl in agricultural environment at Staoueli with 129 individuals (52.7%) followed by barn swallow Hirundo rustica with 16 individuals (6.5%). Tawny owl appears to be well adapted to the habitats it occupies. Frequency of prey species in tawny Owl's diet depends on their abundance in the occupied environment. Delmee et al. (1979) suggests that birds play an important role as replacement food in tawny Owl's diet notably in urban environments.

They identified about 95% of birds in the absence of small mammals in the diet of a pair of tawny owl in a park in central London 45% in the suburbs and only 10% in an oak forest out of agglomeration. Cheylan (1971) noted a frequency of 50.3% of murids 4.5% of birds and 4% of reptiles in the diet of tawny owl in the same environment. During the study we noticed that most frequent species in the diet of barn owl are Mediterranean painted frog house mouse and black rat (Table I). Talbi (1999) reported 27.6% frequency of Algerian mouse and

16% of house sparrow in the diet of barn owl in Staoueli region of Algeria. Amat and Soriguer (1981) reported a frequency of 30.8% house mouse in the diet of barn owl in Spain whereas Saint Giron et al. (1974) suggested 87% of house sparrows in the total number of species captured by barn owl at Settat Morocco. Amat and Soriguer (1981) are of the view that barn owl being a generalist predator would stay all the year round in the same habitat even if the rodent population may decline during some part of the year. The study suggests that

centesimal frequency of prey species of barn owl may vary from habitat to habitat and region to region.

CONCLUSIONS

In suburban environment tawny owl behaves as a polyphagous predator its trophic diet being composed of five categories of preys that maintain a balance among them. barn owl on the other hand believed to be depending mainly on rodents behavedin a different manner. During 1997 amphibians were dominant in the diet of barn owl with 37.5% presence followed by small mammals (34.2%) birds (23.9%) and insects (3.7%). As such the barn owlfalls back on replacement preys in a suburbanenvironment in case it faces difficulty in capturing rodents. The study of diet of tawny owl and barn owl emphasizes their role in the maintenance of biological balance and their survival skills in case of adverse environmental conditions. The tawny owl and barn owl serve the human beings by getting rid of the crop pests that may play a devastating role in the environment and allowing them to use the minimum chemical control measures that may pollute the environment.

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