Support
Subscribe
Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.

DONATE

You are here

Examining Owl Pellets

"Exquisite" insight into an owl’s diet
© Art Siegel - FCC View Large

A roosting owl often leaves visual clues to its whereabouts — a scattering of furry, oval objects below its perch — in the form of pellets. Because owls such as this Great Horned Owl often swallow their prey whole, their digestive system has to deal with bones, fur, and feathers. The owl’s gizzard performs a kind of sorting operation: soft tissues pass through to be digested, while indigestible bits like bones, teeth, and fur are formed into an oval mass that’s regurgitated as a pellet some hours later. 

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®
Examining Owl Pellets
Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Eastern Screech-Owl, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/107366, 0.06-.08]

Many owls roost in trees, often spending consecutive days around the same concealed perch and venturing out at night to hunt. A roosting owl commonly leaves visual clues to its whereabouts — a scattering of furry, oval objects on the earth below its perch. They’re owl pellets.

Because owls often swallow mice, voles, small birds, and other prey whole, their digestive system has to deal with bones, fur, and feathers. The owl’s gizzard performs a kind of sorting operation: soft tissues pass through to be digested, while indigestible sharp and hazardous bits like bones, teeth, and fur are formed into an oval mass. They pass back up the digestive system and are regurgitated as a pellet some hours later, often while the owl’s at roost.

[Eastern Screech-Owl, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/107366, 0.06-.08]

Quite a few other kinds of birds do this, from herons to hawks. Even swallows eject pellets of insect exoskeletons. But since owls don’t tear up smaller prey as a hawk might, the intact bones of an owl’s pellets offer a particularly exquisite insight into what it’s recently eaten. Students at all levels puzzle over them like forensic detectives, to learn hands-on about the food chain, animal anatomy, and principles of ecology.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

[Eastern Screech-Owl, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/107366, 0.06-.08]

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Eastern Screech-Owl [107366] recorded by W L Hershberger
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John KessleR
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org      February 2016      Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#     owl-8-2016-02-08            owl-8

Sights & Sounds

Related topics:

Related field notes:

Home
Shows
Galleries
More