The seasonal diet and variation in the prey selection of the little owl (Athene noctua) in the Northeast of Iran


  • Negar Fallahi akhlamad Faculty of Natural Resources and Environment, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Mashhad, Iran
  • Fatemeh Tabatabaei Faculty of Natural Resources and Environment, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Mashhad, Iran
  • Ali Khani Khorasan-e-Razavi Provincial Office of the Department of the Environment, Mashhad, Iran
  • Iván Rey-Rodríguez Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Departament d’Història i Història de l’Art, Avinguda de Catalunya 35, 43002 Tarragona, Spain



Biodiversity, Birds of prey, Dietary niche, Middle East, pellets


Information on the dietary niche is an integral and challenging part of conservation planning, and it is essential for understanding the status of a species in biological communities and conservation. In this study, to investigate the diet of little owls Athene noctua (Strigiformes: Strigidae) in northeastern Iran's Khorasan Razavi Province, a total of 402 pellets were collected during 2019-2020. The results indicated that during four seasons, the diets of the studied little owls (contained: 72.9% rodents, 12% insects, 10.1% eulipotyphla, 2.9% birds, and 2.1% reptiles). Rodents, included Muridae, Dipodidae, and Cricetidae families. Muridae had the highest percentages in the pellets (Mus musculus) and (Meriones sp.) with 48.2% and 33.1% relative abundance, respectively). The percentage of rodents in winter, with 82.8% was superior in comparison to other seasons, and then in autumn with 77.3%, and in spring and summer with 62.9%. Simpson Biodiversity Index was 0.653 for the whole year. Spring and winter had the highest (0.758), and lowest biodiversity index (0.542), respectively. The implication of the results of this study might be in the conservation and management programs, as well.


Alivizatos, H., Poirazidis, K., Goutner, V., & Athanasiadis, A. (2006). Comparative termporal prey use by barn owl (Tyto alba) and little owl (Athene noctua) in the Evros Delta, northeastern Greece.

Amr, Z. S., Robb, M. S., Nunes, J. M., Abu Baker, M. A., & Walsh, A. (2016). Diet of the Omani owl, Strix butleri, near Nakhal, Oman. Zoology in the Middle East, 62(1), 17-20.

Balčiauskienė, L., Jovaišas, A., Naruševičius, V., Petraška, A., & Skuja, S. (2006, 2006/01/01). Diet of Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) and Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus) in Lithuania as Found from Pellets. Acta Zoologica Lituanica, 16(1), 37-45.

Bogicevic, K., Nenadic, D., Mihailovic, D., Lazarevic, Z., & Milivojevic, J. (2011). Late Pleistocene rodents (Mammalia: Rodentia) from the Baranica Cave near Knjazevac (eastern Serbia): systematics and palaeoecology. Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia, 117(2).

Bonvicino, C. R., & Bezerra, A. M. R. (2003, 2003/02/01). Use of Regurgitated Pellets of Barn Owl (Tyto alba) for Inventorying Small Mammals in the Cerrado of Central Brazil. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment, 38(1), 1-5.

Bradley, B. J., Stiller, M., Doran-Sheehy, D. M., Harris, T., Chapman, C. A., Vigilant, L., & Poinar, H. (2007, Jun). Plant DNA sequences from feces: potential means for assessing diets of wild primates. Am J Primatol, 69(6), 699-705.

Canova, L. (1989). Influence of snow cover on prey selection by Long-eared Owls Asio otus. Ethology ecology & evolution, 1(4), 367-372.

Comay, O. (2018). What determines prey selection in owls? Roles of prey traits, prey class, environmental variables, and taxonomic.

Corp, I. (2019). IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 26.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.

Coksun, Y. (1999). Morphological characteristics of Meriones tristrami Thomas, 1892 (Rodentia: Gerbillidae) from Diyarbakır-Turkey. Turkish Journal of Zoology, 23(EK2), 345-356.

Cramp, S., Simmons, K., Ferguson-Lees, I., Gillmor, R., Hollom, P., Hudson, R., Nicholson, E., Ogilvie, M., Olney, P., & Voous, K. (1992). Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa.

Darvish, D., Orth, A., & Michaux, J. (2006). Mus spretus et M. musculus (Rodentia, Mammalia) en zone méditerranéenne: Différenciation biométrique et morphologique: Application à des fossiles marocains pléistocènes/Mus spretus and M. musculus (Rodentia, Mammalia) in the Mediterranean zone: Biometric and morphological differentiation: Application to Pleistocene Moroccan fossils. Mammalia, 70(1-2), 90-97.

Darvish, J. (2011). Morphological comparison of fourteen species of the genus Meriones Illiger, 1811 (Rodentia: Gerbillinae) from Asia and North Africa. Iranian Journal of Animal Biosystematics, 7(1).

Darvish, J., Mohammadi, Z., Mahmoudi, A., & Siahsarvie, R. (2014). Faunistic and taxonomic study of Rodents from northwestern Iran. Iranian Journal of Animal Biosystematics, 10(2), 119-136.

de Arruda Bueno, A., & Motta-Junior, J. C. (2008). Small mammal prey selection by two owl species in southeastern Brazil. Journal of Raptor Research, 42(4), 248-255.

Duffy, D. C., & Jackson, S. (1986). Diet Studies of Seabirds: A Review of Methods. Colonial Waterbirds, 9(1), 1-17.

Génot, J. C., & Nieuwehuyse, D. (2002, 01/01). Athene noctua Little owl. BWP Update, 4, 35-63.

Goutner, V., & Alivizatos, H. (2003). Diet of the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) and Little owl (Athene noctua) in wetlands of northeastern Greece. Belgian journal of zoology, 133(1), 15-22.

Hámori, D., Szél, G., & Winkler, D. (2017, 12/01). Food composition of the Little owl (Athene noctua) in a farmland area of Central Hungary, with particular attention to arthropod diversity. Ornis Hungarica, 25.

Hashemi, N., Darvish, J., MASHKOUR, M., & BIGLARI, F. (2006). Rodents and Lagomorphs remains from late Pleistocene and early Holocene Caves and Rochshelter sites in the Zagros region, Iran.

Hounsome, T., O'Mahony, D., & Delahay, R. (2004). The diet of little owls Athene noctua in Gloucestershire, England. Bird Study, 51(3), 282-284.

Joodavi, A., Aghlmand, R., Podgorski, J., Dehbandi, R., & Abbasi, A. (2021). Characterization, geostatistical modeling and health risk assessment of potentially toxic elements in groundwater resources of northeastern Iran. Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, 37, 100885.

Khaleghizadeh, A., Roselaar, K., Scott, D. A., Tohidifar, M., Mlíkovský, J., Blair, M., & Kvartalnov, P. (2017). Birds of Iran: Annotated checklist of the species and subspecies. Iranshenasi Publishing.

Krystufek, B., & Vohralík, V. (2005). Mammals of Turkey and Cyprus: Rodentia I: Sciuridae, Dipodidae, Gliridae, Arvicolinae.

Krystufek, B., & Vohralík, V. (2009). Mammals of Turkey and Cyprus: Rodentia II: Cricetinae, Muridae, Spalacidae, Calomyscidae, Capromydae, Hystricidae, Castoridae.

Lanszki, J. (2006, 01/01). Seasonal diet composition of little owl (Athene noctua) in a suburban habitat, Somogy county = A kuvik (Athene noctua) táplálék-összetétele egy Somogy megyei külvárosi élõhelyen. Natura Somogyiensis, 9, 315-324.

Marks, J. S., & Barrowclough, G. F. (2001). Owls: A Guide to the Owls of the World. The Auk, 118(3), 810-812, 813.[0810:]2.0.CO;2

Marrero, P., Oliveira, P., & Nogales, M. (2004). Diet of the endemic Madeira Laurel Pigeon Columba trocaz in agricultural and forest areas: implications for conservation. Bird Conservation International, 14(3), 165-172.

Maul, L. C., Smith, K. T., Shenbrot, G., Bruch, A. A., Wegmüller, F., & Le Tensorer, J.-M. (2015). Microvertebrates from unit G/layer 17 of the archaeological site of Hummal (El Kowm, Central Syria): Preliminary results. L'anthropologie, 119(5), 676-686.

Moysi, M., Christou, M., Goutner, V., Kassinis, N., & Iezekiel, S. (2018, 2018/05/31). Spatial and temporal patterns in the diet of barn owl (Tyto alba) in Cyprus. Journal of Biological Research-Thessaloniki, 25(1), 9.

Obuch, J., & Khaleghizadeh, A. (2011, 12/30). Spatial variation in the diet of the Barn Owl Tyto alba in Iran. Podoces, 6, 103-116.

Oudman, T., Bijleveld, A. I., Kavelaars, M. M., Dekinga, A., Cluderay, J., Piersma, T., & van Gils, J. A. (2016). Diet preferences as the cause of individual differences rather than the consequence. Journal of Animal Ecology, 85(5), 1378-1388.

Page, G., & Whitacre, D. (1975). Raptor predation on wintering shorebirds. The Condor, 77(1), 73-83.

Pocora, V., Popovici, M., Manci, C. O., & Iorgu, I. S. (2012). Feeding of the Little owl during nesting season in the Danube Delta (Romania). Analele Științifice ale Universității „Alexandru Ioan Cuza” din Iași, s. Biologie animală, 58, 107-114.

Rey-Rodríguez, I., Arnaud, J., López-García, J.-M., Stoetzel, E., Denys, C., Cornette, R., & Bazgir, B. (2021). Distinguishing between three modern Ellobius species (Rodentia, Mammalia) and identification of fossil Ellobius from Kaldar Cave (Iran) using geometric morphometric analyses of the first lower molar. Palaeontologia Electronica, 24(1).

Rey-Rodríguez, I., López-García, J.-M., Blain, H.-A., Stoetzel, E., Denys, C., Fernández-García, M., Tumung, L., Ollé, A., & Bazgir, B. (2020, 2020/05/15/). Exploring the landscape and climatic conditions of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans in the Middle East: the rodent assemblage from the late Pleistocene of Kaldar Cave (Khorramabad Valley, Iran). Quaternary Science Reviews, 236, 106278.

Rey-Rodríguez, I., Stoetzel, E., López-García, J. M., & Denys, C. (2019, 2019/11/01/). Implications of modern Barn owls pellets analysis for archaeological studies in the Middle East. Journal of Archaeological Science, 111, 105029.

Šálek, M., Riegert, J., & Křivan, V. (2010). The impact of vegetation characteristics and prey availability on breeding habitat use and diet of Little owls Athene noctua in Central European farmland. Bird Study, 57(4), 495-503.

Šálek, M., & Lovy, M. (2012). Spatial ecology and habitat selection of Little owl Athene noctua during the breeding season in Central European farmland. Bird Conservation International, 22(3), 328-338.

Sandor, A. D. (2018). Rediscovered after half a century: a new record of the grey dwarf hamster, Cricetulus migratorius (Mammalia: Cricetidae), in Romania. Turkish Journal of Zoology, 42(4), 495-498.

Saufi, S., Ravindran, S., Hamid, N. H., Zainal Abidin, C. M. R., Ahmad, H., Ahmad, A. H., & Salim, H. (2020). Diet composition of introduced Barn Owls (Tyto alba javanica) in urban area in comparison with agriculture settings. Journal of Urban Ecology, 6(1), juz025.

Schaub, M., Ullrich, B., Knötzsch, G., Albrecht, P., & Meisser, C. (2006). Local population dynamics and the impact of scale and isolation: a study on different little owl populations. Oikos, 115(3), 389-400.

Selcuk, A. Y., Özkoç, Ö. Ü., Bilir, M. A., & Kefelioğlu, H. (2019). Diet composition of the Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) in the Eastern Anatolia (Turkey). Turkish Journal of Forestry, 20(2), 72-75.

Shenbrot, G. (2009). On the conspecifity of Allactaga hotsoni thomas, 1920 and Allactaga firouzi womochel, 1978 (Rodentia: Dipodoidea).

Stoetzel, E., Cornette, R., Lalis, A., Nicolas, V., Cucchi, T., & Denys, C. (2017). Systematics and evolution of the Meriones shawii/grandis complex (Rodentia, Gerbillinae) during the Late Quaternary in northwestern Africa: Exploring the role of environmental and anthropogenic changes. Quaternary Science Reviews, 164, 199-216.

Tarahomi, S., Karami, M., Darvish, J., Malek, M., & Jangjoo, M. (2010). Geometric morphometric comparison of mandible and skull of five species of genus Allactaga (Rodentia: Dipodidae) from Iran.

Thorup, K., Sunde, P., Jacobsen, L. B., & Rahbek, C. (2010). Breeding season food limitation drives population decline of the Little owl Athene noctua in Denmark. Ibis, 152(4), 803-814.

Torre, I., Arrizabalaga, A., & Flaquer, C. (2004, 01/23). Three Methods for Assessing Richness and Composition of Small Mammal Communities. Journal of Mammalogy, 524-530.

Witherby, H. F. (1943). Handbook of British Birds. 2, 26-27.

Yalden, D. W. (2009, April 17, 2009). The Analysis of Owl Pellets. Mammal Society; 4th Revised edition, 28.

Zarei, A., Tabatabaei Yazdi, F., & Rajaee, S. (2021). Dietary niche comparison of raptors in NE Iran, as an important zoogeographic zone. Journal of Wildlife and Biodiversity, 5(3), 89–99.

Zhao, W., Shao, M., Liu, N., & Song, S. (2008). Diets of little owls and long-eared owls in Northwestern China, Animal Biology, 58(2), 211-219. doi:


Additional Files



How to Cite

Fallahi akhlamad, N., Tabatabaei, F., Khani , A. ., & Rey-Rodríguez, I. . (2022). The seasonal diet and variation in the prey selection of the little owl (Athene noctua) in the Northeast of Iran. Journal of Wildlife and Biodiversity, 7(1), 55–70.