Researchers have determined that noise has the potential to degrade owl habitat. The study by Jesse Barber, assistant professor of biology at Boise State University, and Tate Mason, a Boise State alumnus and education coordinator for The Peregrine Fund, is the first to examine the impact of noise on a predatory bird. Their findings were recently published in the journal Biological Conservation under the title "Anthropogenic noise impairs owl hunting behavior."
In the study, northern saw-whet owls hunted mice in a field-placed flight tent under the same acoustic conditions found 50-800 meters (55-875 yards) from a natural gas compressor station.
Owls are specialized avian hunters, and many are particularly well adapted to hunting by ear. In this study, researchers challenged 31 owls to hunt mice by ear (in the absence of light) under varying noise conditions. In this way, the independent effect of noise on hunting could be measured. Data showed that the owls experienced an 8 percent drop in hunting success per decibel increase in noise.
"Resource extraction has expanded into otherwise quiet areas, and we are growing increasingly aware that associated noise has the potential to degrade habitat for acoustically specialized animals," said Barber.
The results of this study suggest that owls may be at a disadvantage in an increasingly noisy world. The authors are quick to point out that noise can be mitigated for, and its effective management will make ecosystems more resilient.
"Conservation in the 21st century must be about anticipating threats to wildlife, and addressing them before species become imperiled," said Mason.
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