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Breeding status shapes territoriality and vocalization patterns in spotted owls

Cite this dataset

Reid, Dana (2022). Breeding status shapes territoriality and vocalization patterns in spotted owls [Dataset]. Dryad.


Vocal territory defense can vary within a species due to many factors such as sex and breeding status, influencing territory size and thus population density across a landscape. Therefore, understanding what influences variation in territorial vocalizations can help to illuminate trade-offs between territoriality and other life history demands, which benefits our general understanding of animal ecology as well as helps to inform emerging passive acoustic monitoring approaches. Here, we investigated how sex and breeding status affected territoriality and vocal behavior in the California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) in the Sierra Nevada, California, USA, using high-resolution acoustic/GPS tags. We discovered that territorial vocal behavior was related to breeding status and to a lesser extent sex. Breeding owls with fledged young had a less diverse vocal repertoire, produced fewer and quieter territorial calls, and typically called only when close to their nest. Males were also more likely to engage in territorial calling than females. Breeding spotted owls also maintained significantly smaller territories—but utilized larger home ranges—than non-breeding individuals. Our results suggest that breeding spotted owls may reduce their investment in territorial behaviors to mitigate the demands and risks associated with rearing young. Further, our results have important implications for the passive acoustic monitoring of spotted owls and, more broadly, highlight the utility of using multiple call types to detect species of interest.


U.S. Forest Service

California Department of Fish and Wildlife