Little Owl in the OSME Region – request for pictures

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Many Little Owl Athene noctua taxa occur in the OSME Region. However, breeding distributions are poorly known, as are plumage descriptions geographically. The taxonomy of some taxa is uncertain, clouded both by speculation and by the uncertain status (resident, migrant, winter visitor, vagrant of many specimens, some of which have been used as DNA samples for research papers).

It is unclear if some or all geographical populations exhibit plumage variation, either related to habitat/geography (a phenomenon observed, for example, in some lark taxa in deserts), or as individual variation.

Most of the recent DNA work on Little Owl from which taxonomic suggestions have arisen comes from analyses carried out by Prof Dr Michael Wink of Heidelberg University, or by his co-authors of papers.

Professor Wink has been very helpful in advising the limits of prudent caution that the OSME Region List (ORL) might best observe. The ORL team have tapped their own experience and that of others in addressing the question of Little Owl taxa identity in the OSME Region, and have concluded that a resource of images of Little Owl taxa would help clarify some of the questions above, even in the negative sense that individual variation may invalidate the assessment of the identity of a taxon in a particular geographical area.

We therefore are issuing this OSME Council-approved request for digital pictures of any Little Owl taxon. We also require the date (in consideration of plumage growth and moult; even an approximate date would help), local time of day, weather and light conditions, geographical location (as accurately as possible; some cameras now have GPS data for each image), habitat (of the general area and of the image site) and any opinion of the photographer as to which taxon it might be.

Professor Wink has also requested that if it is possible to obtain by ethical and legal means, feather, blood or tissue samples from Little Owl taxa (he would advise on request how these should be packed and sent), he would be happy to analyse them, the address being:

Prof. Dr. Michael Wink,
Institute of Pharmacy & Molecular Biotechnology
Director, Division: Biology
Heidelberg University;
Im Neuenheimer Feld 364; D-69120 Heidelberg;Germany
Email wink@uni-hd.de

OSME will be putting these images in an archive on the website. We would require only low-to-medium resolution images for public view. The images will be available to view, and so for those who do not wish their donated images to be downloaded, please imprint them in a manner that would spoil any download but not obscure plumage information. Should Professor Wink or any other bona fide researcher wish to obtain the raw images, we would ask the copyright holder to deal directly with the researcher, if only to obtain agreement re acknowledgement details should these images appear in any kind of publication. All such requests should go to secretary@osme.org, copy to orl@osme.org.

Mike Blair, Richard Porter, Simon Aspinall, Steve Preddy March 2011