Birds, nature study, Scientist

Dissecting Owl Pellets

04.02.09 | 13 Comments

The boys know the owl. There may be two or three, even. But that owl, the one who hoots outside our window at night while I read bedtime stories, finally left us a pellet. We have been scouring all two acres of this place looking and yesterday they found this in the garden, matted, flecked with mulch and sunbaked:


Nobody was as excited as I was, pulling out the tweezers and asking questions to get them thinking about the pellet. Was it a bird or a mammal? How do you know? How did the owl make this? How do you know it’s not just coyote poo (the most intriguing question of all)?


Then, we started pulling it apart. (instructables)

owl pellet

Ford, curious

You can dissect one right now without a pellet if you can’t find one in your yard or don’t want to buy one online. Which is really kind of cool.

chas, curious


Right about here is where I remembered to put a bandanna over Chas’ nose and mouth. I was paranoid that they didn’t inhale any of the dust from the pellet as they pulled it apart. Hello Hantavirus. I find it interesting that people stress the importance of latex gloves in this exercise when a very real danger lies in breathing the virus or dust particles of deceased, potentially diseased rodents. Still, the CDC recommends the first line of defense is avoiding dead rodents and if you must come in contact with them, wear rubber or plastic gloves.

Which we didn’t. Because I’m a compulsive, adrenalized nature freak that finally found an owl pellet after several weeks of looking. I am a horrible, horrible parent.

chas, pulling apart the fur

Minette, who wrote about tide pooling a while back here, recently dissected some owl pellets with friends. She recommended this book.

lots of mousy gray fur.

teeny tiny bones

teeny tiny bones

Anyone wanting a video demonstration need look no further; here’s a thorough, professional tutorial on pellet dissection:

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