Our intrepid Camp Director Jenny and two assistant naturalists, ages 6 and 3, made a lucky find last week while hiking at Woodward Cove Preserve off Rt. 24 in Brunswick. They found a fresh owl pellet right on the trail!
What are owl pellets? Well, owls don’t have teeth so they swallow their food pretty much whole or in large pieces. As you would expect, their digestive systems are designed for this. Undigestible parts of their food are processed in the gizzard which acts like an internal trash compactor, grinding up the unusable parts.
About once a day, owls cough up an owl pellet, which is black when fresh but turns grey as it dries. Owls often cast their pellets from the same roost, so you may find several in one spot, e.g. under a tall pine tree. The curious can watch a video of the coughing up process here.
Jenny and her team brought the pellet home and called an expert (her sister who is, conveniently, a wildlife biologist). She learned that they should dry it for a few days before trying to dissect it. Yesterday was the big day – dissection! What do owls eat?
With appropriate surgical tools in hand (tweezers!), the lab girls picked apart the pellet and found….lots of bones and lots of fur. They identified the bones based on a chart of small rodent bones they found online. (Chart of small rodent bones? Truly, you can find ANYTHING online.)
They found parts of a vole skull, a humerus and femur, along with multiple sets of small jaws and pieces with teeth, possibly belonging to moles or mice.
Turns out, anyone can do this from home because YOU CAN ORDER OWL PELLETS ONLINE from (among others), pellet.com. Who knew? A medium-sized barn owl pellet is currently discounted from $1.95 to $1.65. Or, you can send your kids outside to hunt for owl pellets, which apparently, they may be able to sell at a roadside stand (curbside pickup of course).
Jenny and her team recommend this great science website which informed their owl pellet investigation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9azuEJnlQs
Nothing beats hands-on, nature-based science.