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Owls use tools: Dung is lure for beetles

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2:50pm, September 7, 2004

Burrowing owls' habit of bringing mammal dung to their burrows is an example of tool use, researchers say. The dung attracts beetles, an important part of owl diets, the scientists have found.

Owl watchers have long known that Athene cunicularia collects dung from mammals such as cows. They've also observed that if this dung disappears from the birds' burrows during the early part of the breeding season, the birds replace it.

Douglas Levey of the University of Florida in Gainesville and his colleagues tested possible benefits of the dung, such as disguising the scent of eggs, in Florida owl populations. However, when the researchers made fake burrows, those furnished with dung succumbed to predators as rapidly as those without it.

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