Owls are the predators of the sky. These nocturnal birds of prey take off in the night for their hunts, usually to capture insects, other birds, small mammals, and sometimes fish. What’s interesting about owls is that you can see what types of prey they’ve hunted by looking through their pellets. Although it seems weird to rummage through something an owl has regurgitated, their pellets have many scientific benefits that people use to track their behavior and eating habits. So what’s inside owl pellets?
To answer this question, we first have to discover what owl pellets are. Owls, like most birds, are unable to chew their food. Although their sharp beaks can devour their prey, this often time leaves large pieces of prey in their stomach, including parts that aren’t digestible. This includes teeth, fur, bones, and claws. Because these parts are not digestible, but also aren’t safe to pass, the owl’s evolutionary body is able to create a pellet through their gizzard. The owl’s gizzard tightly compacts these not-so-safe pieces into a soft, moist pellet that is then regurgitated.
So now that we’ve learned what pellets are, let’s ask the question again—what exactly is in an owl’s pellet? Well, whatever pieces of the prey that the owl can’t digest, and is too dangerous (sharp or painful) to pass, gets processed into the pellet. Again, this includes teeth, fur, bones, claws, skulls, and feathers. Because these pieces are found inside the pellets, it is often easy to identify the prey that the owl consumed earlier. If feathers are seen, scientists can draw the conclusion that the owl preyed on another bird. Scientists can also differentiate different mammals consumed by looking at the skulls and the size of bones.
No two pellets are the same. The shape and texture of the pellet often vary, especially among the hundreds of species of owls. Owl pellets can sometimes be larger, smaller, tightly compacted, or loose and crumbly. It all varies by the owl and what the owl consumed.
Want to practice being a scientist and looking through your own owl pellets? www.pellet.com has been providing owl pellets for scientific and recreational purposes for more than 25 years. When you order pellets from then, you can specify what type of pellet and prey you are looking for. If you randomize your order, you can try and guess what the owl consumed! Happy researching!