Owls see and hear much better than humans do. They cannot see in total darkness, but they put us to shame by starlight! There are about 250 different kinds of owls, mostly solitary, nocturnal birds of prey. These types of birds have strong hooked beaks, serious talons (claws), and terrific eyesight.
As a predator who has no teeth, owls wolf down their prey in a few bites. Their stomach acid digests what it can, everything but the bones, teeth and fur. The owl then burps up an owl “pellet,” all that remains of the eaten prey. This is NOT owl puke nor owl poop! Sterilized, dissected, and analyzed, these remains are a great portal into the life of an owl. After tracking the contents of many owl pellets, one can get a comprehensive look at the diet of a specific type of owl.
The first job is to separate the bones and the teeth from the fur. You can see the skull with its brown incisors, and the pelvis leg socket in the picture below! Using the pile of bones, and an identification chart, students were able to determine what type of prey animal their owl had eaten. Most third graders found a rodent (mouse or young rat), but two shrew skulls were also uncovered. We also found a few bones that we were unable to identify.
Once the bones and teeth are separated from the fur, students work to rebuild the prey’s skeleton. Since most students find rodent bones, I give them a card with a mouse skeleton depicted. They lay out the bones they’ve found and glue them in position. No one ever finds all of the bones, of course, but most students do find the larger bones – skull and jaw, pelvis and legs, shoulder blades and ribs. Some even find vertebrae and toe bones!
Want to buy owl pellets? They’re $2.75 here: