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Mason, J. Tate – The impact of anthropogenic noise on Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadius) hunting behavior

Photo of J. Tate Mason with a Northern Saw-Whet Owl
J. Tate Mason with a Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Alumni Research

Anthropogenic noise is increasing across the landscape.  While human population has increased by 1/3 in the last 30 years, the amount of air and road traffic has tripled.  It is relevant to consider if this increase in noise might be impacting wildlife.

It is well documented that the natural soundscape is used in intricate and amazing ways.  For example, the acute hearing of bats and dolphins allows for echolocation of obstacles and prey.  Songbirds use the calls of other birds to assist in finding suitable stopover habitat during migration, and nocturnal predators such as owls are able to pinpoint the precise location of their prey in complete darkness.

As part of the Sensory Ecology Lab at Boise State University, I am examining the effect of anthropogenic noise on the Northern Saw-whet Owl. Saw-whets, with their highly asymmetrical ears, have evolved some of the most advanced hearing in the avian world.  In my experiment, I will film owls hunting in a controlled environment where I can alter the background noise level.  Some of the questions I will be posing are:

-Are the adventitious noises made by the prey items masked by certain anthropogenic noises to the extent that the owl cannot hear them?

– Are Saw-whet owls distracted by anthropogenic noise to the point that their hunting ability is affected?

Understanding how organisms utilize the environment is key to facilitating comprehensive wildlife management strategies.  This research is aimed to broaden our awareness of acoustically-oriented predators and the difficulties they may be facing in an ever-changing world.


Thesis Abstract

Where Are Graduates Now? (J. Tate Mason)