Variation in Working Effort in Danish Little Owls (Athene noctua)

Locomotion is costly and should therefore serve a purpose according to the principle of optimal behaviour. In this light, we studied variation in nocturnal activity of radio-tagged Little Owls Athene noctua in Denmark where, after a decline of at least 30 years, the species is threatened with extinction. The study is based on 143 one-hour surveys of breeding and 274 surveys of non-breeding Little Owls (27 territorial individuals on 14 territories). Working effort is calculated as the total linear distance between all observed consecutive telemetry fixes during one-hour surveys (Minimum Flight Distance, MFD). The effort peaked during the post-hatching dependency period with males flying longer distances and having fewer inactivity periods than females. This might suggest that also after hatching, males provide more food to the nest than females. Non-breeding owls were completely inactive in 13% of all surveys. Probability of inactivity increased with heavy rain and was highest in the middle of the night. During the non-breeding season, MFD of active owls varied with a peak in March and a low in December, possibly reflecting seasonal variation in metabolic needs and social activity. During the non-breeding season, MFD was slightly higher for males than for females, possibly reflecting lower energetic flight costs due to lower weight, and were highest at the beginning and end of nights.