Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) and Great Homed Owls (Bubo virginianus)are common in North America where they occupy a wide range of habitats, often sympatrically. The two species are similar in size and have been portrayed as ecological counterparts, eating the same prey by day and night. We tested the trophic similarity of the two species by comparing published dietary data from across the United States. Both species ate primarily mammals and birds, and mean proportions of those two prey types did not differ significantly between diets of the two raptors. Red-tailed Hawks ate significantly more reptiles, and Great Homed Owls significantly more invertebrates. Dietary diversity was not significantly different at the level of prey taxonomic class, and diet overlap between the two species averaged 91%. At the prey species level, dietary overlap averaged only 50%, and at that level Red-tailed Hawk dietary diversity was significantly greater than that of Great Horned Owls. Mean prey mass of Red-tailed Hawks was significantly greater than that of Great Homed Owls. Populations of the two species in the western United States differed trophically more than did eastern populations. We conclude that, although the two species are generalist predators, they take largely different prey species in the same localities resulting in distinctive trophic characteristics.
Additional publication details
Are red-tailed hawks and great horned owls diurnal-nocturnal dietary counterparts?