The Owl Pellet

owl pelletDuring a recent class hike to Berry Berry Island, I found an owl pellet on the side of the trail. I know a little bit about owl pellets and have heard stories of people finding owl pellets, but I had never seen one. What I saw on the ground was a dark gray felty-looking oval-shaped lump speckled with white shapes.

Ben, a boy in my class, was with me when I found the pellet. I told him what it was and he exclaimed, “You mean you are touching owl barf?” Not owl barf, owl regurgitation. Owls, like many other birds, eat their food whole. The food is slowly digested. The softer materials—meat, fat and tissue—are separated from the harder materials—bone, feathers and fur. The owl then regurgitates—spits out—the indigestible items in the form of a pellet. A lot is known about the dining habits of owls because of this digestive process. Many other birds also make pellets: herons, cormorants, gulls, terns, kingfishers, crows, jays, swallows, hawks, eagles, and most shorebirds. Scientists examining bird pellets sometimes discover unusually items. In 1966, a Golden Eagle pellet in Oregon contained a bird band that had been placed on an American Wigeon four months earlier and 990 miles away in southern California.

Melissa, my team teacher, and I showed the pellet to the rest of the class and asked if the children could guess what kind of animal the owl had eaten. They all answered correctly: mouse. The dark gray color was unmistakable mouse. Melissa found the skull in the matted fur ball and pointed it out to the kids. “Cool,” “Gross,” and “Wow,” were some of the reactions. She also mentioned that the fourth-grade class at her daughter’s school reassembled animal skeletons from owl pellets. That seems very possible by the looks of this pellet. The skull and bones are all present and easy to separate from the matted fur. The soft tissue is completely gone, ingested by the owl.

The pellet investigation continued on Monday. While the class was dissecting the pellet, it broke into two pieces. Upon closer look, we noticed two skulls. So the owl had eaten two mice. The fur and skeletons were separated and laid out for easy viewing. The children were given loupes and drawing materials and asked to draw what they saw. Melissa also found a website where you could dissect an owl pellet and reassemble a mouse skeleton. For that link and other resources, click the links below.

Owl Pellet Dissection

Pellet

Owl Pellet Activity

Owl Pellet

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