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If you’d told me 5 years ago that I would one day google ‘How to dissect owl pellet’, I would’ve laughed in your face, but guess what I did today? Three pellets were very kindly sent to me, at my request, by an understanding friend. What can I say? I was curious! I was curious to see what the owl had been eating. (And I must ask my friend what his reply was when the Post Office staff asked what was in his parcel.)

180529 owl pellets (2)180529 owl pellets (3)

Here is what I received, and a look at the external features. Are they tiny teeth? What is that bone? The pellets have been dried and are very light and look to be full of fur.

Just to be clear, an owl pellet is not pooh. Owls usually swallow their prey whole or, if it’s too large, then in big chunks. The food gets broken down in the gizzard, then digested in the stomach but the more solid, indigestible bits like fur and bone get compacted into pellets in the gizzard and are then ejected. So, a pellet will usually contain whole bones, sometimes whole skulls, which can be used to find out what the bird has been eating.

180529 owl pellets (4)

According to the instructions I found on Discover Wildlife.com:

  • To see what is in an owl pellet, soak it in water. When soft, gently tease it apart with forceps.
  • Slowly pick out all of the bones and bits of insect and put to one side for identification.
  • Count everything – you may only have one skull but three lower jaws, so check carefully to see how many animals are represented in the pellet.

180529 owl pellets (8)

I have now dissected all three pellets, leaving me with a pile of fur and a ton of tiny bones. It was fascinating stuff and I felt a bit like an archaeologist, teasing away the unwanted material from around the fragile bones. Everything has now gone in to soak in biological washing power (as per another website I found) (the enzymes in biological powder should help remove the small bits of fur and ‘other matter’) to clean the bones (bone collectors would probably use hydrogen peroxide at this point but I don’t plan on making a hobby of this so haven’t bought any chemicals). At a glance, I think the bones are mostly of Field voles but there is also one Common shrew. I’ll report back on the findings, with photos of the bones, in a few weeks.

Field vole skulls