Birds overwintering at high latitudes may find it challenging to meet their energy budgets when thermoregulatory costs are high and food availability is low. Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus), like most raptors, exhibit reversed sexual size dimorphism, so, if availability of high‐quality (food‐rich) habitats is limited, we predicted that larger and dominant females would use better‐quality habitat than males. During the winters of 2014–2015 and 2015–2016 in Saskatchewan, where many Snowy Owls overwinter annually, we measured prey (small mammal) abundance in fields with four types of cover, including cut stalks (stubble) of canola, grain and legume crops, and pasture, and related this estimate of quality to habitat selection by males and females. Small mammal abundance varied annually, but not among the three types of crop stubble. However, prey were less abundant in pastures than in the three types of crop cover in one of three years. Biweekly surveys of owls conducted during the two winters along a 60‐km transect revealed weak selection for legume fields, especially by males. The home ranges of nine females with transmitters included proportionally less canola stubble than those of eight males with transmitters. Within home ranges, males avoided canola stubble and tended to use legume fields more, whereas females used all four habitat types in proportion to availability. Fewer Snowy Owls than expected were observed at locations along the transect within 800 m of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus) and their associated habitats, suggesting that Snowy Owls also avoided these potential competitors on the landscape. Our results suggest that larger females outcompete smaller male Snowy Owls for home ranges in preferred habitat with less canola stubble because stubble‐free legume fields provide easier access to prey than canola fields with numerous rigid stalks.
Journal of Field Ornithology – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
Keywords: ; ; ; ; ;
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