Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair(s)

Carl D. Cheney


Carl D. Cheney


E. K. Crossman


Len Ruggiero


The purpose of this study was to examine the hunting strategies of birds of prey in a probability learning situation. One great horned owl and one red-tailed hawk served as subjects. Three boxes and associated perches, each representing different potential prey areas, were placed in a room adjacent to the birds' regular housing and served as test apparatus. One box were required to land on a perch in order to gain access to the associated box and to the potential prey. A discrete-trial, self-correction procedure was used. In Experiment I, Box 1 was loaded with a live laboratory mouse on 60% of the trials, Box 2 on 30% of the trials, and Box 3 on the remaining 10%. A response requirement of sitting on the perch 5 seconds was programmed. In experiment II, the probability of reinforcement was reversed for the 10 and 60% boxes and the response requirement was increased from 5 to 20 seconds. Experiment III returned the probability of reinforcement for each box to the values used in Experiment I. In Experiment III the mice were euthanized prior to each trial.

The owl matched responses to probability of reinforcement in all three experiments while the hawk matched in Experiment II and showed matching toward two of the three boxes in Experiment III. In Experiment I the hawk had a Box 2 preference. This research extends the generality of the matching concept and suggests that predatory birds do not randomly hunt or hunt in only one location, but rather tend to search according to the probability of reinforcement for that location.



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