Owl Pellets

If you saw these gray blobs on the ground under a tree, would you recognize them for what they are?

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I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t – and not only am I birder, but at one point I actually lived in a building that doubled as a raptor rehab center and had a number of resident owls in enclosures in the yard, so I really have no excuse. These are owl pellets, retrieved from under the tree in front of the building where I work, after my boss clued me in to the fact that they were there. As I’m sure everyone reading this already knows, after an owl eats a meal (often whole), it later harfs up all the undigestible bits like fur and bone in a compacted pellet. I have never, to the best of my knowledge, stumbled across pellets from wild owls like this before, but it seems likely I’ve walked right past them in the woods without seeing them.

Not having dissected an owl pellet since I was a kid (and even then, probably only ones from captive owls with controlled diets), I carried these home and ripped them apart to see what our local wild owls have been eating. Unsurprisingly, I guess, the pellets were mostly fur.

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The bones within were tiny and delicate, and it was hard to prize them out of their furry casings without crushing them, but by counting skulls I could determine that these two pellets contained the remains of at least six small rodents.

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And there were leg bones, and ribs, and those things on the left in photo below are teeny tiny vertebrae… I’m pretty sure I even spotted the remains of a little hand embedded in the fur, incredibly minuscule phalanges still arranged together, but no way could I get it out intact to photograph.

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Based on the size of these pellets, the fact that I didn’t find anything but mammal bits (no sign of insects, which small owls sometimes supplement their diets with), and what species of owl I’ve actually heard calling in town, I’m going to assume that these are Great Horned Owl pellets, rather than Western Screech Owl or anything else that might be around here.

You know you’re a nature nerd when this is how you spend your spare time.

10 replies on “Owl Pellets”

Ha ha! One time in Idaho I was getting hay out of a barn loft and saw some large owl droppings. Then when I move to South Central Alaska I saw something similar in piles on the ground and thought there must be huge flocks of owls around. Actually, it was just moose droppings! We learn as we go!

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