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We document two episodes, in different years, of Barn Owls (Tyto alba) preying on a winter population of Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) on a southern California island. The predation in each case followed a marked shift in the diet of the Barn Owls, due to the cyclic decline of their normal small mammal prey. Heavy predation in the first year resulted in the extirpation of the Burrowing Owls on the island. Such heavy predation on alternative prey species is commonly reported in cyclic predator-prey systems, however this is the first documented case of extirpation of the alternative prey. Complete elimination of any prey species by terrestrial predators is, in fact, very rare.
Oecologia © 1992 Springer