If you’re not one of the lucky students back in high school who got the chance to dissect an owl pellet, then you don’t know what you missed out on. Sure, opening up something that an owl threw up may sound gross and repulsive to some, but it’s actually quite fun and not nearly as bad as it sound.
You’re probably wondering just what exactly is an owl pellet. Well, simply put, it’s the indigestible parts from their meal that is spit up or regurgitated. Owls aren’t the only ones who do this either. Some birds, such as falcons, must regurgitate pellets in order for their digestive tract to stay healthy and function properly.
Owls, along with other birds, must spit these pellets up because they often eat large chunks from their prey. Remember, owls don’t have any teeth, so they can’t chew their meals like other animals can. Instead, they must use their beak to peck at their food and swallow pieces of it. After swallowing their meal, the stomach of an owl will begin to separate the soft digestible material from the stuff that can’t be digested. A few hours after feeding, an owl will begin to spit the pellet up.
Dissecting these pellets is not only a fun, hands on fun activity, but it’s a great learning experience as well. By going through the contents of one, you can determine what the owl ate and the biology of their prey. This is one of the reasons why teachers of all grade levels allow their students the opportunity to dissect them. You can even print up bone charts to help you identify the parts of the prey you find.
Owls are nocturnal predators, meaning they hunt at night. Their diet will vary depending on the species, but some common prey they feed upon are mice, insects, spiders, lizards, small birds, and squirrels.
You can expect to find a wide variety of interesting items in an owl pellet. Bones and fur are probably the most common things found when dissecting them. However, it’s not uncommon to find insect shells, claws, and even trash like aluminum foil.
Normally, when an owl spits up a pellet, it still contains liquids from their stomach, which make them unpleasant and unsanitary to dissect. However, you can purchase owl pellets that have already been dried and sterilized. It’s important to never allow children, or anyone for that matter, to touch owl pellets that haven’t been sterilized, as they can carry dangerous bacteria and parasites.
If you plan on doing your own dissecting, you’ll need a few items first. A magnifying glass is a must, as it will allow you to take a better look at the small contents of the pellet. You should also get some small tongs to pick the pellet apart with and latex gloves to help protect your hands.
You don’t have to be a biology major to enjoy the experience of an owl pellet dissection. Just pick up a few items and a pellet and give it a try.