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How To Do Your Own Owl Pellet Dissection

March 17, 2015 2 min read

How to do your own Owl Pellet Dissection

Ever since we spent a summer zipping around the world learning about science, we have been hungry to learn more. And when the opportunity presented itself to do some hands-on science fun with our author, we jump at the chance!

A few weeks ago Paige and her kids decided to dissect an owl pellet for Science Saturday. She was kind enough to invite us over and we enthusiastically joined in!

We thought it would be an awesome idea to share the whole process with you guys!

What Is An Owl Pellet?

We will admit that when we first heard about an “owl pellet” we thought it was poo-poo and there was no way we were touching that!

The good news is that the pellet is most definitely not poo-poo, the bad news is that it is in a way owl puke.

Owls are like most other birds in that they do not have teeth to chew up their food. Instead, they swallow it whole!

Unlike other birds, the food goes directly from the owl’s mouth into its gizzard where digestion begins. The food is separated into digestible and indigestible parts. The indigestible parts, like the bones, fur, and sand, are compacted together into an oval-shaped pellet, which the owl regurgitates several hours after it eats.

Since the owl swallows the prey virtually whole, most of the bones are intact and can be viewed quite easily in the pellet.

Owl Pellet Dissection

Here is what you will need:

  1. Gloves
  2. Tweezers
  3. Wooden stick (coffee stirrer or popsicle stick will work)
  4. Newspaper or paper towel
  5. Owl pellet

Note—Paige got her owl pellet from here, but we have been told that the Sassafras experiment kits come with one too.

Here is what you will do:

Step #1 – Open the owl pellet up and examine the outside. Look for fur, feathers, and other identifiable material. Before you begin, lay out the newspaper or paper towels on your work surface and put on the gloves. Most pellets are sterilized, but you should still use these precautions anyways.

Step #2 – Use the wooden stick to gently break the owl pellet up and observe what you see.

Step #3 – Use the tweezers to pick up some of the bones you can see.

Step #4 – Examine these bones up close to identify whether they came from a rodent, shrew, mole, and small bird. Here is a free Bone Identification Chart from Carolina Biological that you can use to help identify the different bones you find. You may also see remnants of feathers, fur, and bits of sand and gravel.

When you are done with your observations, take off the gloves, roll up your foil with the pellet and tools inside, and throw it all away.

 How to do your own Owl Pellet Dissection

FREE Owl Pellet Dissection Printable

Here is a free printable from the Sassafras Science Team that you can use to record your owl pellet dissection:

Well, we hope that you guys find the owl pellet dissection to be as interesting as we did! 

Looking for a science curriculum that includes an owl pellet dissection all planned out for you? Check out The Sassafras Science Adventures Volume 1: Zoology.

by Blaine & Tracey Sassafras

*Owl image source - Trebola from Wikipedia Commons (original image: Athene_noctua_(portrait).jpg)

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