Feeding habits and people’s perception of the Barn Owl ( Tyto alba tuidara , J.E.Gray 1829) in urban settings of Southern Chile: Implications for conservation
ABSTRACT People’s perception on birds of prey is heavily influenced by its intrinsic value, utility, myths and superstitions. In particular, negative perceptions may encourage poaching and persecution of these birds, affecting their conservation status. One nocturnal raptor species widely distributed across the world is the Barn Owl (Tyto alba, Tytonidae). In Chile, this species has been recorded and studied exclusively in rural and sub-urban areas. However, in the city of Valdivia Barn owls exist within the city boundaries. In this study we documented the feeding habits of Barn owls nesting in urban settings of Valdivia, and we analyze the opinions of local neighbors toward the owls. To characterize the diet of owls, we collected all pellets found around their nesting tree on a monthly basis between August 2010 and August 2011. We interviewed the neighbors using a questionnaire that included questions about the utility, ethical or aesthetic value of the owl and the tree where they nested. Our results indicate that the main prey of the Barn Owl was the Long-tailed Colilargo (Oligoryzomys longicaudatus). The neighbors’ perception was favorable to the Barn Owl primarily for aesthetic and ethical reasons, and not utilitarian reasons. Our results suggest that people perception in urban areas is different than in rural areas, where previous studies showed the prevalence of utilitarian values. This positive perception represents a great potential to promote conservation and environmental education in the city, creating a link between people and the natural elements they have in their environment.