The prey composition of the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) can be monitored indirectly by pellet analysis and we used this method to investigate less known small mammal species of Zala County. The number and abundance of small mammal species depend on the structure of the landscape of Barn Owls’ hunting area, therefore we analysed landscape features in the surrounding circles with 2 km radius around the sampling sites. In 2016 we collected 1106 pellets from 13 sampling localities. From the pellets we identified 21 species of 3022 individuals of small mammals (more than 98% of prey). Among the 21 species there was the rare Parti-colured Bat (Vespertilio murinus) and a new species for the county the Steppe Mouse (Mus spicilegus). Positive correlation was found between the diversity of the small mammal fauna of each sampling site and the landscape complexity (number of the landscape patches) of the Barn Owl hunting area. Relative abundance of the Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) showed positive correlation with the number of landscape patches, while the abundance of the Lesser White-toothed Shrew (Crocidura suaveolens), the Miller’s Water Shrew (Neomys anomalus), the Striped Field Mouse (Apodemus agrarius) and the Harvest Mouse (Micromys minutus) was higher in hunting areas with more homogenous landscapes. Significant correlations were found between the relative abundance of some small mammal species and the landscape structure of the potential hunting area of owls that confirmed the consistency in habitat preference of some species. Our results proved that the prey-composition of Barn Owls reflects the land use through the distribution and abundance of small mammal species, therefore this method is suitable for ecological analyses of landscape.
Little was known about the small mammal fauna of the Marcal Basin to date, therefore we collected 1,144 Barn Owl pellets from 15 locations in 2017. After the analysis of the pellets, remnants of 3,063 prey items were identified, of which 97.5% were small mammals, belonging to 21 species, while the remaining 2.5% were birds, frogs and insects. Mammal prey items consisted of Cricetidae 41%, Muridae 31% and Soricidae 28%, and in some samples, we found the remnants of European Mole (Talpa europaea), Kuhl’s Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii), Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) and Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis). Small mammal species were classified into four functional groups based on their preferences for urban, open, forest or wetland habitats. We investigated whether their relative abundances match with the proportions of the four habitat types in the assumed Barn Owl hunting ranges (cca. 2 km radius circle) in five sample sites. The relative abundance of small mammal species preferring urban habitats showed concordance with the proportion of the appropriate habitat types in the hunting area in two samples, while such concordance was proved for species favouring open, forest and wetland habitats just in one out of five samples. Small mammal functional groups represented in the prey composition do not directly correspond to the proportion of their typical habitats. We conclude that the abundance of various prey types is not suitable for characterising the landscape within the Barn Owl’s hunting range.