Weather conditions drive dynamic habitat selection in a generalist predator

Despite the dynamic nature of habitat selection, temporal variation as arising from factors such as weather are rarely quantified in species-habitat relationships. We analysed habitat use and selection (use/availability) of foraging, radio-tagged little owls (Athene noctua), a nocturnal, year-round resident generalist predator, to see how this varied as a function of weather, season and availability. Use of the two most frequently used land cover types, gardens/buildings and cultivated fields varied more than 3-fold as a simple function of season and weather through linear effects of wind and quadratic effects of temperature. Even when controlling for the temporal context, both land cover types were used more evenly than predicted from variation in availability (functional response in habitat selection). Use of two other land cover categories (pastures and moist areas) increased linearly with temperature and was proportional to their availability. The study shows that habitat selection by generalist foragers may be highly dependent on temporal variables such as weather, probably because such foragers switch between weather dependent feeding opportunities offered by different land cover types. An opportunistic foraging strategy in a landscape with erratically appearing feeding opportunities in different land cover types, may possibly also explain decreasing selection of the two most frequently used land cover types with increasing availability.