Factors Affecting Timing of Breeding in the Tawny Owl

Tapio Solonen*
Luontotutkimus Solonen Oy, Neitsytsaarentie 7b B 147, FI-00960 Helsinki, Finland

© 2013 Tapio Solonen

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Luontotutkimus Solonen Oy, Neitsytsaarentie 7b B 147, FI-00960 Helsinki, Finland; Tel: +358-41- 4602101; E-mail:


Relevant variables characterising factors suspected to affect timing of breeding in birds may be difficult to measure. Then, easily available proxies, i.e. variables that are expected to vary consistently with some affecting factors, may be used instead. In the present study on tawny owls, I used besides individual characteristics of parent birds both detailed measurements of the prey base of territories, local and general indices of vole abundance as well as local and general weather conditions as explanatory variables. Owls tended to breed the earlier the older and the heavier they were. Breeding was the earlier the higher the abundance of water voles and the proportion of field voles in the territorial prey samples. Owls bred earlier when the local abundance of small voles in the preceding autumn was high. Regional vole indices showed no associations with timing of owls' breeding. Single winter weather variables did not show any significant associations neither. In combination with the advancing effect of water vole abundance, however, the delaying effect of the depth of the snow cover in March was significant. Models based on different data sets showed different kinds of associations between the abundance of small voles and timing of breeding in owls. The best models in which both intrinsic and extrinsic explanatory variables (characteristics of parent birds and environmental factors, respectively) were included did not differ considerably from each other. The occurrence of water voles in prey samples governed the best models. The results suggest, that without detailed knowledge on the prey base of territory, misleading results may emerge and the importance of small voles in governing breeding of owls may be overemphasised.

Keywords: Extrinsic factors, fixed effects, intrinsic factors, local prey, random effects, regional vole indices, winter weather variables.