To dare or not to dare? Risk management by owls in a predator-prey foraging game

Keren Embar, Ashael Raveh, Darren Burns, Burt P. Kotler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


In a foraging game, predators must catch elusive prey while avoiding injury. Predators manage their hunting success with behavioral tools such as habitat selection, time allocation, and perhaps daring-the willingness to risk injury to increase hunting success. A predator's level of daring should be state dependent: the hungrier it is, the more it should be willing to risk injury to better capture prey. We ask, in a foraging game, will a hungry predator be more willing to risk injury while hunting? We performed an experiment in an outdoor vivarium in which barn owls (Tyto alba) were allowed to hunt Allenby's gerbils (Gerbillus andersoni allenbyi) from a choice of safe and risky patches. Owls were either well fed or hungry, representing the high and low state, respectively. We quantified the owls' patch use behavior. We predicted that hungry owls would be more daring and allocate more time to the risky patches. Owls preferred to hunt in the safe patches. This indicates that owls manage risk of injury by avoiding the risky patches. Hungry owls doubled their attacks on gerbils, but directed the added effort mostly toward the safe patch and the safer, open areas in the risky patch. Thus, owls dared by performing a risky action-the attack maneuver-more times, but only in the safest places-the open areas. We conclude that daring can be used to manage risk of injury and owls implement it strategically, in ways we did not foresee, to minimize risk of injury while maximizing hunting success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)825-834
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Behavioral indicators
  • Daring
  • Predator-prey interactions
  • Risk of injury
  • Tradeoffs of food and safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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