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Finding owl pellets


Last week Dad and I went to explore some new woods a few miles from my house. They were so cool we went back exploring there today. We've seen tons of roe deer, loads of roe deer bones and skulls, a fox skull, a real fox, some hares and some grouse. But one of the best things we found looked like this:

These are owl pellets and I found these under trees at the edge of the wood. Owl pellets are the bits of animals thats owls eat but which their tummy can't digest, so they spit up all the bones and fur in a pellet. Last week I brought back four owl pellets to see what was inside.

First of all I picked it apart with cocktail sticks and tweezers to see what bones were inside.

Then I put any bones I found in a Tic-Tac box, a different one for each pellet (Tic-Tacs are the best !).

When they were in the Tic-Tac boxes, dad put in some hydrogen peroxide which I use to clean bones. After about two days, we washed the bones and left them to dry.

The bones are so incredibly tiny it's hard to show you how small they are. All these pictures are taken with a five pence piece which is about 18mm across, or about the same size as an American or Canadian dime.

This is part of a skull and a lower jaw. You can tell it is from the rodent family because the teeth are orange on the front, just like the beaver skull I wrote about last week and my squirrel skull. From the size I think it is a small mouse, maybe a harvest mouse. It actually looks quite like a tiny rabbit skull, because rabbits are from the lagomorph family which is a lot like the rodent family.

These are all from the same pellet but they came from more than one animal. The bones you can see are:

  1. A skull, three lower jaws, a nasal bone and an incisor tooth

  2. Three femurs, which are the top back leg bones. You can tell because of the ball on top which goes into the hip in the pelvis. Two of the femurs were broken.

  3. is the ulna, which is one of the bones that goes between the elbow and wrist

  4. are the shin bones

  5. are the pelvis bones

Here's another one we picked apart: You can see:

  1. four halves of a pelvis

  2. five radiuses

  3. three femurs

  4. and four shin bones

so the owl must have eaten at least three mice or animals like that.

This is the smallest bone I found. It looks like a neck vertebrae, and we worked out it is only 2.5mm long !

I'm going to keep looking for owl pellets, but I hope I get to see the owl as well !

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paolov said...

Hi Jake,

great post as usual!

The shape, size and colour of this pellet make me think it's from a Barn owl and it's probably been sitting around for a day or two (they're glossy when fresh). Make sure you remember where you found the pellets, since owls usually produce them in the same place again and again, so you should keep finding new ones there (and if you're quiet you may even see the owl).

You can get a better idea of what the owl has been eating by looking at the molar teeth of the rodents - if they have a zig-zag shape then they'll be from voles, if they are more rounded or squarish they'll be from mice.

Jake said...

Thanks Paolo ! I'm going to find more pellets and see if I can find more skulls like this. The skulls are fiddly to look at so dad takes pictures then I look at the pictures.

robbie said...

this is cool I hope to find some on my walk. I am around yor age and also interested in animal bones and taxidermy. I have a ram and deer skull. I also have a stuffed duckling and yesterday (Christmas ) I got a stuffed moorhen

robbie said...

its me again if you are interested into taxidermy animals the hornamoms museum and its free

Jake said...

Hi Robbie ! That's quite cool. Which type of deer ?

Jake said...

I haven't been to the museum but one of the curators has been VERY helpful, and I hope to go next year. I did visit their secret warehouse in the summer, though: http://www.jakes-bones.com/2013/06/visiting-horniman-museums-stores.html

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