© Marcel Burkhardt
Aschwanden, J., S. Birrer & L. Jenni (2005)
J. Ornithol. 146: 279–286
Common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) and long-eared owls (Asio otus) in intensively farmed areas in Switzerland decreased markedly as a result of declining vole (Microtus spp.) populations. In order to counteract the loss of biodiversity in intensively farmed areas, the Swiss agri-environment scheme stipulates several types of ecological compensation areas, which together should take up 7% of the farmland. Among them are wild flower and herbaceous strips, which are not mown every year and which in summer support up to 8 times more small mammals than ordinary fields and grassland. This study investigates whether kestrels and long-eared owls preferentially hunt on ecological compensation areas and whether preferred hunting areas are related to the density of small mammals or to the density and height of the vegetation. Both kestrels and long-eared owls mainly hunted on freshly mown low-intensity meadows and artificial grassland, despite low densities of small mammals. Therefore, vegetation structure was more important for the selection of hunting sites than prey abundance. However, both predators preferred to hunt on freshly mown grassland and meadows bordering a wild flower or herbaceous strip. Voles from these strips probably invaded the adjacent freshly mown grassland and became an easy prey for kestrels and owls. In intensively farmed regions, ecological compensation areas, particularly those not mown each year, are an important refuge for small mammals, although in summer the small mammals are not directly accessible to hunting birds. Hence, a mosaic of different habitat types with grassland mown at different times of the year together with undisturbed strips is best suited to provide a year-round supply of accessible food for vole hunters.
Keywords: Agri-environment scheme, Asio otus, ecological compensation area, Falco tinnunculus, hunting preference