FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 7, 2004
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Dr. Scot Duncan, assistant professor of biology at Birmingham-Southern College, recently had his research noted in a widely-read international journal and on the websites of the BBC, Scientific American, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Duncan and his colleagues, University of Florida-Gainesville Professor of Zoology Douglas J. Levey and Carrie F. Levins of Panama City, Fla., studied burrowing owls and discovered that they spread dung in and around their burrows to bait dung beetles, one of the owls' favorite foods.
The owls are deliberately collecting mammal dung and using it as a tool to catch dinner, say Duncan and his colleagues in a recent issue of Nature. Convincing examples of such tool use by birds are unusual and often difficult to assess experimentally. To show that dung baiting is deliberate, the researchers removed the dung from several burrows. They placed fresh dung at the entrance to some, and left others bare. Four days later, they examined the owls' droppings to see what they had eaten. Those with dung-decorated burrows had feasted on 10 times more dung beetles than those without.
Joining the Birmingham-Southern faculty in 2002, Duncan received his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida.