Using birds of prey to study predator prey interactions and energy flow

This activity allows a number of important aspects of ecology to be explored through a series of memorable practical activities.

This activity starts with a visit from a local falconry display group, allowing students to meet a variety of birds of prey at close quarters, see them fly and learn about their adaptations as predators, and different hunting strategies.

We use Longworth small mammal traps to find some of the major prey species of our local birds of prey, including a discussion of the mark, release, recapture method of estimating population size.

Dissection of barn owl pellets and identification of mice, voles and shrews by their skeletal remains helps to develop the important practical skills of manipulation and accurate observation, as well as developing an understanding of homologous features used to establish evolutionary relationships.  Comparing the mass of the undigested  remains with that of the live mammals caught earlier provides useful data to contribute to a consideration of the efficiency of energy transfer from one trophic level to another.

Computer simulations of predator prey interactions are then used as part of a final discussion to show predator and prey species can effect each other’s population size.  If a farm visit is included in your programme, we can also consider the role of predators in pest control.