Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist 44(1):60–62; 2012


Published by the Great Plains Natural Science Society. Used by permission.


Four species of shrews occur in the panhandle of western Nebraska – the masked shrew (Sorex cinereus), Merriam’s shrew (S. merriami), dwarf shrew (S. nanus), and least shrew (Cryptotis parva; Genoways et al. 2008). Little information is known regarding the distribution and habitat of those species due to few captures of individuals throughout the region (e.g., Jones 1964, Freeman et al. 1993, Benedict et al. 1999, 2000, Geluso et al. 2004). To date, no shrew has been reported from the southwestern part of the panhandle in Banner, Kimball, or Cheyenne counties. Here we present distributional records for the least shrew and Merriam’s shrew from western Banner County, Nebraska. Records of shrews were obtained mainly from regurgitated owl pellets and a few subsequently by pitfall traps. Owl pellets can be used to better understand distributions of mammals because pellets contain identifiable bones of prey and reflect prey species located in territories of owls (Vernon 1972, Mikkola 1983). Owl pellets also can be important to document species (e.g., shrews) that are under-represented by some traditional trapping methods, such as Sherman live-traps (e.g., Whitaker 1974; K. Geluso, personal observation).

We collected pellets from a solitary adult barn owl (Tyto alba) residing in a barn in Banner County, Nebraska (5 km S, 18.7 km W Harrisburg, 41°30.476′N, 103°57.901′W; NAD 83). The barn was located in a grassy valley with ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) and junipers (Juniperus spp.) interspersed on canyon slopes. Agricultural fields consisting mostly of wheat were located above canyons on flat terrain. We collected 24 pellets on 28 July, 43 pellets on 7 September, and 25 pellets on 2 October 2010. We dissected pellets and identified mammalian prey by cranial and dentary bones; shrews were identified via the keys in Carraway (1995) and Junge and Hoffmann (1981).