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The Importance of Riparian Old-Growth Forest for Fish Owls

Slaght, J.C., Surmach, S.G., and Gutierrez, R.J. 2013. Riparian old-growth forests provide critical nesting and foraging habitat for Blakiston’s fish owl Bubo blakistoni in Russia. Oryx 47: 553-560. doi: 10.1017/S0030605312000956.

This manuscript appears in the October 2013 issue of the journal Oryx, published by Cambridge University Press, and can be downloaded here.

ABSTRACT: Conservation efforts for Blakiston's fish owl Bubo blakistoni in Russia are limited, partly because habitat use by these rare owls is poorly known. We therefore studied nesting and foraging habitat characteristics of Blakiston's fish owls in Primorye, Russia. We sampled habitat at 14 nest sites, 12 nest stand sites and 13 random sites; we also sampled rivers within 14 fish owl home ranges across our 20,213 km2 study area. We found that large old trees and riparian old-growth forest were the primary characteristics of nest and foraging sites, respectively. Large trees were probably used as nest sites because they have cavities large enough to accommodate these birds. Big trees are also important because they are primary sources of large woody debris in rivers, which enhances suitable habitat for salmon, the owl's primary prey. Based on habitat characteristics, nest sites were correctly distinguished from random sites 74% (Kappa = 0.48) of the time, nest stands from random sites 56% (Kappa = 0.12) of the time, and used sites from available foraging sites 68% (Kappa = 0.36) of the time. The management and conservation of old-growth forests is essential for sustaining this species because they are central to the owls' nesting and foraging behaviour. Moreover, conservation of these forests sustains habitat for many other species.

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